MHB WEEKLY: By the students, for the world

Writing A Wrong: Social Media and Japan | April 5, 2011

Some argue that social media is a fad. Others criticize Facebook for creating the illusion of social behavior to mask antisocial tendencies, and Twitter for reducing the English language to misspellings and grammatical errors. But in the past few months, social media have risen to global occasions and played fundamental roles in revolutions and crises alike: first it was Facebook that helped to mobilize the peaceful masses who overthrew Muhamma Hosni Sauuid Mubarak from his dictatorship in Egypt; next it was the combined charitable forces of all web networks that came to the aid of the thousands affected by the March 11th earthquake and tsunami in Japan. And just last week, yet another goodwill innovation was announced to benefit Japanese victims: a digital publication called Quakebook, which will anthologize reflections and essays on the Japanese tragedy and donate all proceeds to emergency relief.

Quakebook, the first creative effort of its kind to address international strife, draws its material entirely from a collection of 87 Twitter posts from about 200 everyday authors. Its forward is written by activist and novelist Barry Eisler, and musician Yoko Ono has tweeted to her 1.3 million followers and has created a two-page spread in support of the project. The man behind the book, a British teacher living outside of Tokyo who goes by the alias of Our Man in Abiko, is in talks with for online sales; he also addressed Asian media correspondents at a press conference last Friday. The Quakebook Twitter account, which acted as host for the contributions that make up the text, is now offering the opportunity to reserve a copy upon publication.

Quakebook, meanwhile, is just the most recent social media endeavor in the rapid and thoughtful internet reaction to the crisis in Japan. Within a day of the twin natural disasters, Google distributed its Person Finder to help locate missing citizens and amass information about their potential whereabouts. Facebook created a page titled “World’s 1,000 Messages for Japan” to collect kind words and memories for those lost in the tragedy. And since phone lines were down following the tsunami, many stranded civilians relied on web communication to reassure their families and friends of their safety. Quite clearly, social networks enabled safety and tributary measures that did not exist before the age of information.

What might still be more impressive, however, is the incomparable speed and scope of these efforts. Quakebook, if it does indeed hit the marketplace before Friday, was assembled, edited and published within two week’s time. Google’s Person Finder became a database of 7,000 individuals within 24 hours. And in a telling statistic, the internet has seen double-digit increases in terms of Japanese viewers in the three weeks since March 11th; across the same period, the numbers for Japanese television have remained constant. So for all the flack flung at the world of web networking, it’s hard to downplay its potentially crucial role as an outlet of social communication in times of global upheaval and catastrophe.



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    Established in 2009 at USC, the Master's of Science in Human Behavior is designed to equip students with knowledge of consumer psychology, social media and market analysis skills. This is our blog. Subscribe

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