Social Networks and the Internet Were Invaluable to Japan Following Quake. Will They Be for the Philippines?

Article excerpt

MANILA, Philippines - "Social networks have shown their ability once again to unify us as human beings," said Brad Shimmin, an analyst at Current Analysis, according to a report posted on Huffington Post following the 9.0 magnitude earthquake in Northeast Japan last Friday. Social networks and other Web 2.0 tools were used to post emergency assistance information, locations of shelters for those left homeless, and altered train schedules as well as to contact friends and family members.

The epicenter of the shallow quake was in the Pacific of the coast off Sendai City in Miyagi prefecture.

Damage from the earthquake itself was not extensive. But a massive, 23-foot tsunami rolled across cities, towns, villages, and fields minutes later, flattening virtually everything in its path as far inland as six miles at some points. On an island no more than 140 miles wide the majority of the population lives near the ocean. And it was devastated.

The seventh-largest island in the world, Honshu - Japan's main island - is about 800 miles long and is home to a population of about 100 million, not much more than the Philippines' estimated 95 million. The Internet is ubiquitous, and about 20 million people have accounts on Miki, the largest social network in Japan. According to comScore, Twitter has about 10 million users. Facebook is relatively small with only about two million active users.

With landlines and cellular networks heavily damaged and demand substantially heightened in the aftermath of the disaster, residents had little alternative to the Internet and SMS to communicate. Fortunately, data and SMS services remained accessible. Twitter "posted a guide for users to help people get information and communicate" in both English and Japanese, according to a The New York Times blog, "Media Decoder."

To identify quake-related posts, users incorporated popular hash tags - #prayforjapan, #japan, #japanquake, and #tsunami - in their tweets. Twitter almost immediately became the fastest and most comprehensive source of information about the quake as residents and journalists sent thousands of tweets every second. Google quickly launched a People Finder application and aggregated map information showing shelters, nuclear power plants, and affected locations, also in English and Japanese, in an online Crisis Center.

Many experts believe a similarly devastating earthquake is inevitable in the Philippines, which like Japan, sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire. If that prediction proves sadly true, social networks are likely to provide an equally invaluable service to Filipinos - as long as the infrastructure holds up. …