Social media use and goals after the Great East Japan Earthquake
First Monday

Social media use and goals after the Great East Japan Earthquake by Joo-Young Jung



Abstract
This paper examines the use of social media after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Based on media system dependency theory, the study focuses on the ways in which people used different types of social media to cope with a highly ambiguous situation created by the earthquake. A survey of Japanese university students revealed that the respondents used different forms of social media with different goals. Moreover, use of a particular social media type influenced the relative importance of social media for understanding developments relating to the Fukushima nuclear accident. Social media users and non–users also differed with regard to their use of other media. The implications of the current study in the context of ongoing research of the role of media in disaster situations are discussed.

Contents

Introduction
Social media
Dependency on media after disasters
Research questions 1–3: Helpful social media
Research questions 4 and 5: Social media and other media
Research methods
Results
Discussion and conclusion

 


 

Introduction

On 11 March 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck the northeast area of Japan’s main island. The earthquake and tsunami took the lives of more than 20,000 people. About 370 km. from the epicenter of the earthquake, Tokyo residents also felt the strong earthquake. The damage there was minimal compared to the north, but the earthquake’s consequences were nevertheless very strongly felt by many people living in Tokyo. As soon as the earthquake took place at 2:46 PM, land–line and mobile phone lines were clogged and did not work in many cases. Text messages were also difficult to get through due to congestion. For many, the only form of communication that was available was the Internet via mobile phones. Immediately after the earthquake, e–mail messages and social media were frequently the only means of getting information about the earthquake and communicating with family and friends (Kessler, 2011). This paper examines popular use of social media in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake on 11 March 2011. A survey was conducted among university students in April 2011 to examine the types of social media used, reasons for using each type of social media and the relationship between use of a particular social media platform and use of other types of media. The study results indicate the growing importance of social media as information source and communication channels in disasters.

 

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Social media

Despite its prevalent use, the term “social media” is not usually defined and even when it is defined, the definition varies (Ahlqvist, et al., 2010; Howard and Parks, 2012; Patel, 2010). Among the several definitions of social media, the one offered by Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) is one of the clearest and most operational, and as such will be used in this paper. They define social media as “a group of Internet–based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content” [1]. Web 2.0 is defined as content and applications that are “continuously modified by all users in a participatory and collaborative fashion,” and user generated content is defined as “various forms of media content that are publicly available and created by end–users” [2]. Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) also propose six categories of social media in terms of the level of self–disclosure and media richness: social networking sites (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Mixi), collaborative projects (e.g., Wikipedia), blogs (e.g., Blogger.com, FC2, Ameba), content communities (e.g., YouTube, Flicker), virtual game worlds (e.g., World of Warcraft) and virtual social worlds (e.g., Second Life). These six categories provide useful boundaries as to what can be categorized as social media and what cannot. Particularly, social networking sites (SNSs) are Web sites that allow users to create personal profiles and establish networks with other users within the platform. boyd and Ellison (2007) list the defining features of SNSs as profiles, public testimonials or comments, and publicly articulated, traversable lists of fellow users. Due to the network infrastructure and vast array of contents (Howard and Parks, 2012), SNSs have become important communication channels for individuals, groups, and organizations (Jung and Moro, 2012). These different components of social media form the technological context for understanding responses to the Japanese earthquake in terms of ambiguity, communication and coping.

 

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Dependency on media after disasters

Researchers have investigated the ways in which people rely on mass media in disaster situations. The majority of studies reported that dependency on mass media increased during or after a disaster. Dependency on mass media also increased in terms of time spent with forms of mass media (Hirschburg, et al., 1986; Lowrey, 2004), the credibility of mass media (Ledingham and Maseh–Walters, 1985) and its perceived importance (Kim, et al., 2004).

Why does reliance on mass media increase during and after disaster situations? What makes people spend more time with mass media in these cases? Media system dependency (MSD) theory provides a framework to explain the relationship between individuals and media in disaster situations. According to MSD theory, the importance of mass media in an individual’s life varies according to the social environment and the intensity of individuals’ goals (Ball–Rokeach, 1985). In a disaster situation, be it a natural or social disaster, the social environment suddenly becomes uncertain. People often do not have full understanding of what is going on in their social environment. For example, after the 11 September terrorist attack in New York in 2001, the ambiguity in the social environment surged in terms of the nature of the incident, the number of victims, and the implications of the incident for people’s security (Cohen, et al., 2002). Similarly, after the 11 March earthquake in Japan, people in Tokyo who felt the earthquake were not immediately certain about the magnitude of the earthquake, tsunami and aftershocks. In an ambiguous situation, according to MSD theory, dependency on mass media increases because mass media outlets are likely to contain important and exclusive information that is not available from other sources (Ball–Rokeach, 1998). For example, the magnitude and the epicenter of an earthquake are often only available from mass media outlets.

The media–individual relationship in media system dependency theory is conceptualized in terms of goal attainment. Media resources are implicated in individuals’ goals of understanding (themselves and their social environments), orientation (acting and interacting) and play (solitary and social) (Ball–Rokeach, 1985). When achieving a particular goal becomes more important, individuals’ dependency on media is likely to be stronger. The ambiguous social environment present in a disaster situation is likely to heighten the goal intensity for understanding what is going on in the social environment and for orienting oneself on how to act in disaster situations. A play goal may also intensify in order to overcome psychological distress during the disaster situation. When goal intensity increases, individuals are likely to seek ways to fulfill their goals, and their dependency on the media is consequently likely to increase.

Although the three goals proposed by MSD theory comprehensively cover goals that individuals have for the mass media (Ball–Rokeach, 1985), they do not serve as comprehensive categories in the new media environment. As Ball–Rokeach and Jung (2009) noted, “the most serious criticism of MSD theory came ... from the realities of a changing media environment” [3]. In order to overcome the limitations of MSD theory, Ball–Rokeach and her colleagues proposed a new framework that is grounded in MSD theory but is more inclusive (Ball–Rokeach, et al., 2001). The communication infrastructure theory (CIT) goes beyond a “media effects” model and embraces various means of communication, including new media and local/ethnic media (Ball–Rokeach and Jung, 2009). The focus of CIT is the “storytelling network” that individuals, organizations and media create and maintain. The stories do not flow one–way as mainly described in MST theory but flow two or more ways in CIT. Conversations with others, for example, are one of the important channels of storytelling in CIT.

What were the main goals that people expressed after the earthquake? The Nomura Research Institute (2011) reports that the two main goals that people had immediately after the earthquake were 1) to communicate with one’s family and friends to check their safety, as well as to let others know about one’s own safety, 2) and to obtain information about the earthquake. The latter goal corresponds to the understanding goal of MSD theory that has been an important goal in past disaster studies (Hirschburg, et al., 1986; Kim, et al., 2004). The former goal, communicating with others to check the safety of them, has not been one of the MSD goals but is included in the framework of communication infrastructure theory (Ball–Rokeach, et al., 2001). With the affordances of communication of the Internet, people not only get information but also are able to engage in interpersonal communication with others via e–mail and social media. In this way, communicating with others was one of the important goals informing media dependency, particularly Internet dependency, after the earthquake. What were the main forms of media that people used after the 11 March earthquake to communicate with others and to understand what was happening?

To communicate with others

Immediately following the earthquake and throughout that day, both land–line and mobile phone lines were clogged in the Tokyo area. In the hours following the earthquake, subways were not operating and as day turned to night, traffic jams blocked people on the street. For many in Tokyo, it took hours to finally reach family and friends to check on their safety. Among the means of communication, the least congested channel was certainly the Internet. The author’s personal experience in downtown Tokyo showed that while mobile phone calls and texting did not work, she was able to access Facebook and Twitter and communicate with friends and family on a chatting application via the Internet. Several surveys also report that mobile phone e–mail was used the most to communicate with friends and family, followed by mobile phone calls and social media (Hickins, 2011).

To understand

Several reports found that television was the dominant medium to which people connected in order to understand what was happening on a national scale. The Nomura Research Institute (2011) reports that NHK (National Hoso Kyoku) television was the most reliable source of information after the earthquake (by 80.5 percent of the respondents), followed by commercial television channels (56.9 percent). According to a report by National Association of Commercial Broadcasters in Japan (2011), 71 percent of the respondents accessed television within one hour after the earthquake, while 38 percent accessed the Internet and 18 percent radio. Although television was still the dominant media, the scope of media that people accessed was broader compared to previous disasters (Hirschburg, et al., 1986; Kim, et al., 2004). Rather than relying only on mass media, people accessed portal sites, news sites and social media on the Internet to get information about the earthquake (Preston, 2011). According to the Survey Research Center (2011), the Internet was ranked the third (25.5 percent) after NHK television (53.7 percent) and commercial television (30.6 percent) as useful media for getting information after the earthquake. Mobile phone calls (19.8 percent) and mobile phone e–mail messages (19.9 percent) were ranked next. Japan Commercial Broadcasters Association (2011) reported that 38 percent of the survey respondents accessed the Internet to get information on the earthquake, which was the second most–used form of media after television (71 percent). NEC Biglobe report (2011) examined traffic flow on Twitter and found that the amount of tweets on March 11 was 1.8 times larger than usual. Also, while entertainment topics occupy about 57 percent of tweets during normal time, earthquake–related tweets occupied 72 percent of the total tweets during the week following the earthquake. Twitter released data showing a 500 percent surge in Twitter use immediately after the earthquake (Tsukayama, 2011).

Social media were considered important information sources due to the variety of information available on the sites (Jung and Moro, 2012). Individuals, whether experts or laypersons, uploaded information about the earthquake and nuclear accident on social media platforms. Many local newspapers in earthquake–affected areas set up an account either on commercial social media outlets, such as Twitter, or used local social networking sites to send out information to local residents and newspaper subscribers (Nihon Shinbun Kyokai, 2011). Social media also served as a dissemination channel for the mass media. Within several days of the earthquake, NHK streamed its programs on social media such as Ustream and Nico Nico Douga (Niconico). Major news agencies sent out real–time news on Twitter several times a day. As social media were used widely by individuals, organizations and mass media to produce, consume and exchange information, the information utility of social media in the emergency situation increased. In order to examine goals and media dependency in a disaster situation, five research questions are proposed.

 

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Research questions 1–3: Helpful social media

Many reports and newspaper articles emphasized the important role that social media played in the aftermath of the earthquake. However, most of them either relied on anecdotal examples of how social media were used or reported descriptive survey results on whether people used social media or not after the earthquake. Moreover, social media are often treated as one single type of activity, rather than distinguished by different functionalities and usage among different forms of social media. The present study examines types of social media used after the earthquake.

RQ1: What was the main form of social media that people used on the day of the earthquake?

RQ2: Are the different forms of social media that people used (RQ1) distinguished in terms of the reasons for using them?

RQ3: What was the main form of social media used to fulfill the goals of (1) getting information and (2) communicating with others after the earthquake?

Among the six categories suggested by Kaplan and Haenlein (2010), social network sites, blogs and content communities are considered to be relevant to fulfilling people’s goals of understanding and communicating and are thus included in the present study. First, three popular social network sites in Japan — Facebook, Mixi and Twitter — are included. Mixi has been a dominant social network site in Japan since 2004. Having incorporated many unique features that appeal to Japanese culture, including nickname–based and invitation–only membership, and the deposition of footsteps when visiting someone’s page (although this function has recently been abolished), Mixi has maintained its dominant position. However, in the last few years, Facebook and Twitter have gained popularity and are threatening Mixi’s position in Japan. According to Alexa (as of June 2012, www.alexa.com), Facebook is ranked sixth, Twitter 13th and Mixi 19th in Japan in terms of the daily page views. Blog sites likewise maintain high popularity in Japan. Blog sites such as FC2 and Ameba occupy high rankings in Japan (fifth and eighth, respectively) (Alexa, 2012). Video sites such as Youtube (fourth) and Niconico (15th) are also popular and people are likely to have relied on such video sites to watch news or get information after the earthquake. Finally, a popular anonymous BBS in Japan, 2channel (ranked 26th), addresses various topics and is likely to have been used after the earthquake to get information and interact with other people. This study questions which forms of social media among the aforementioned were the most useful on the day of the earthquake (RQ1) and what were the reasons for accessing each particular social media tool (RQ2). The most helpful social media outlets in terms of the two previously stated goals (understanding what was happening and communicating with friends and family) are also specifically examined (RQ3).

 

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Research questions 4 and 5: Social media and other media

RQ4: Comparing those who chose to use social media on the day of the earthquake and those who did not, how did their use of other media differ with regard to understanding the Fukushima nuclear accident?

Research question 4 concerns whether those who used social media on the day of the earthquake exhibited different usage patterns with regard to other types of media when compared to those who did not use social media on the day of the earthquake. The relationship between new and old media has been one of the important research areas in the history of media studies (e.g., Schramm, et al., 1961). With regard to the Internet, both displacement and complementary relationships between the Internet and other media have been observed (Dimmick, et al., 2004; Kayany and Yelsma, 2000). However, few studies have examined use of social media after a disaster in relation to their use of other forms of media. As noted earlier, people used several different media to get information about the earthquake and subsequent nuclear accidents. Assuming that the centrality of social media is likely to be relatively higher for those who used social media on the day of the earthquake compared to their counterpart (Jung, et al., 2001), research question 4 asks whether the centrality of social media influenced choice of other media for understanding the Fukushima nuclear accident.

RQ5: How was a choice of a specific form of social media on the day of the earthquake related to the likelihood of choosing social media as one of the two forms of media for understanding the Fukushima nuclear accident?

The fifth research question concerns the relationship between using a particular type of social media and the relative importance of the social media for understanding the Fukushima nuclear accident. Past studies have found that dependency on mass media increased in an ambiguous situation (Hirschburg, et al., 1986; Lowrey, 2004). With the advent of social media, would the same pattern be found? When social media were provided as one of the many types of media for finding out what was going on with the Fukushima nuclear accident, how likely were social media to be chosen as one of the two helpful forms of media? Particularly, it is necessary to understand the relationship between the type of social media that people relied on the most after the earthquake (RQ1) and the likelihood of social media being chosen in order to understanding the Fukushima accident.

 

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Research methods

A paper–based, in–class survey was conducted at a private university in Tokyo, Japan between 25 and 29 April 2011. The survey was conducted in Japanese. A total of 225 responses were collected. Seventy–two percent of the respondents were females (slightly higher than the 62.6 percent female representation within the university’s overall student body), and the average age was 19. Ninety–two percent of the respondents were Japanese nationals, 4.5 percent had dual citizenship with Japan and another nation and two percent were foreign nationals.

Measurement

The main form of social media used was ascertained by asking, “if you used social media on the day of the earthquake, which form did you primarily use? (Choose one)” The response choices given were Facebook, Twitter Mixi, 2channel, video sites (Youtube, Ustream, Niconico, etc.), blog sites (Ameba, Livedoor, etc.), others, and “did not use social media.” Following this question, a subsequent question was asked about the reasons for using a particular form of social media. The question of “What were your reasons for using the above–chosen social media outlet?” was asked, and response choices included: to learn what was happening; to learn if people you knew were safe; to let others know you were safe; to make your view of the earthquake public (including uploading photos and videos); and, others.

Two questions were asked with regard to a type of social media used for each goal (communicating with others and getting information about what was going on). The following questions were posed: “If you used social media, which one in the list below was the most useful to communicate with others?” and similarly “If you used social media, which one in the list below was the most useful to get information about what was going on?” The response categories provided were the same as for the questions above.

For RQ4, whether or not a respondent used social media on the day of the earthquake was used as an indicator of the relative importance of social media. Using social media on the day of the earthquake indicates that social media was one of the important forms of media for fulfilling the aforementioned goals. On the other hand, if a person did not use social media on the day of the earthquake, even if the person normally used social media, then social media was not one of the central ways for that person to understand and communicate on the day of the disaster (Jung, et al., 2001; Jung, 2008).

A question about media use was asked: “What were the two most helpful forms of media for daily updates on the situation at Fukushima nuclear plants?” Response choices included face–to–face communication (17.1 percent), TV (78.2 percent), radio (3.7 percent), newspapers (print) (17.1 percent), online news sites (19 percent), online portals (13.9 percent), social media (16.2 percent) mobile phone voice calls (1 percent), mobile phone text messaging (0.7 percent), mobile phone e–mail messages (0.5 percent), PC e–mail messages (0.5 percent) and others. The survey questionnaire is included in the Appendix.

 

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Results

RQ1: Main form of social media on the day of the earthquake

What was the main form of social media that the respondents used on the day of the earthquake? Facebook was chosen by the greatest number of respondents (33.3 percent), followed by Twitter (22.2 percent) and Mixi (21.8 percent). 2channel (1.4 percent), blog sites (0.9 percent) and video sites (0.5 percent) followed with much lower percentages. Nineteen percent of the respondents said that they did not use social media on the day of the earthquake.

RQ2: Reasons for choosing a particular social media platform

Reasons for choosing a particular social media platform (RQ2) differed across different types. Since the majority of respondents (95 percent of those who used social media) chose one of the three social media Web sites — Facebook, Mixi and Twitter — reasons for using these sites are reported here (Figure 1). For those who chose Facebook, the most common reason was to learn if people they knew were safe (79.2 percent). 58.3 percent responded that they accessed Facebook to let others know how they were, 44.4 percent to learn what was happening, and 6.9 percent to make their view of the earthquake public (including uploading photos or videos). For Twitter, on the other hand, the highest percentage of people said that they used Twitter to learn what was happening (75 percent), followed by using it to learn if people they knew were safe (68.8 percent), to let others know that they were safe (45.8 percent) and to make their views public (8.3 percent). For Mixi, the dominant reason was to learn if people they knew were safe (85.1 percent), followed by to learn what was happening (61.7 percent), to let others know that they were safe (51.1 percent) and to make their views public (8.5 percent). Top reasons were therefore different among the three forms of social media.

 

Reasons for using a particular social medium
Figure 1: Reasons for using a particular social medium (percentage).

 

RQ3: Goals of communicating with others and getting information

What type of social media was used for the goal of communicating with others and obtaining information about what was happening? (Figure 2) For the goal of communicating with others, Facebook was chosen by the highest percentage of respondents (35.5 percent), followed by Mixi (22.6 percent) and Twitter (18 percent). A small percent of respondents chose blog sites and video sites (0.9 percent respectively) and 20.7 percent responded that they did not use social media for communicating with others. On the other hand, for obtaining information about the events, Twitter was chosen by 31.3 percent of the respondents, followed by Facebook (19.4 percent) and Mixi (18.9 percent). Video sites were chosen by 6.5 percent, 2channel by 2.8 percent and Blog sites by 2.3 percent. Seventeen percent of the respondents said that they did not use social media to get information about what was happening after the earthquake.

 

Main social media for two goals
Figure 2: Main social media for two goals (percentage).

 

RQ4: Social media and other media use

Research question 4 compares those who used social media on the day of the earthquake and those who did not in terms of the types of media that they chose to understand the situation regarding Fukushima nuclear plants. Those who said that they used social media on the day of the earthquake (N=182) and those who did not (N=43) were compared. Among six types of media — television, print newspapers, radio, online news sites, portal sites and face–to–face communication — the most prominent difference was found for print newspaper readership (Figure 3). Among social media non–users, 42.5 percent chose the newspaper as one of the two most helpful forms of media, while 11.9 percent of social media users did. An analysis of variance (ANOVA) test indicates that the difference is statistically significant (F=22.742, p<.001). Radio was also chosen more by social media non–users (12.5 percent) than users (1.2 percent) and the difference was likewise significant (F=13.403, p<.001).

 

Media use for understanding the Fukushima nuclear accident: Comparison between social media users and non-users
Figure 3: Media use for understanding the Fukushima nuclear accident: Comparison between social media users and non–users (percentage).

 

RQ5: Facebook, Twitter and Mixi users’ likelihood of choosing social media

Research question 5 concerns the relationship between the use of a specific social media platform and the relative importance of social media in relation to ten other media forms for understanding the situation at Fukushima. How did Facebook, Twitter and Mixi users differ with regard to the relative importance of social media for understanding what was going on after the Fukushima nuclear plants? The result indicates that Twitter users consider social media to be the most helpful. Almost forty (39.1) percent of those who chose Twitter as their main form of social media on the day of the earthquake likewise chose social media as one of the two most helpful forms of media for understanding the Fukushima nuclear accident. On the other hand, 20 percent of Mixi users and only 5.8 percent of Facebook users chose social media as one of the two most helpful forms of media (Figure 4). A chi–square test reveals that the difference is statistically significant (χ2=28.89, p<.001).

 

Relative importance of social media: Comparison among Facebook, Twitter and Mixi users
Figure 4: Relative importance of social media: Comparison among Facebook, Twitter and Mixi users (percentage).

 

 

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Discussion and conclusion

This study examined college students’ use of social media and its relationship to the use of other media on the day of and after the 11 March earthquake in Japan. By examining the use of different social media platforms and the reason for using particular forms of social media from media system dependency theory, the study results first revealed a distinction between the three main social media outlets used by the respondents: Facebook, Twitter and Mixi. Checking others’ safety after the earthquake was the dominant reason for using Facebook and Mixi, while getting information on what was going on after the earthquake and the nuclear accident was the dominant reason for using Twitter. Second, the study found that those who used Twitter on the day of the earthquake were more likely to choose social media as one of the two most helpful forms of media for getting information about the Fukushima nuclear accident than those who chose Facebook or Mixi. That is, Twitter users’ relative dependency on social media in the context of other types of new and old media was higher than that of Facebook and Mixi users. Finally, the study found that those who used social media on the day of the earthquake and those who did not showed differences vis–à–vis the types of media they used for understanding the Fukushima accident. Non–users of social media were more likely to rely on print newspapers and radio for understanding the Fukushima accident than social media users.

Social media dependency

Facebook was chosen by the greatest number of respondents as the main form of social media used on the day of the earthquake. However, the high rate of Facebook use (33.3 percent) on the day of the earthquake can be interpreted differently when compared to usage before the earthquake. The survey included a question about types of social media that respondents usually used before the earthquake. Facebook was used by 73.3 percent of respondents, Mixi by 53.3 percent and Twitter by 36.7 percent. If these percentages are compared to those used on the day of the earthquake (Facebook: 33.3 percent, Twitter: 22.2 percent and Mixi: 21.8 percent), the proportion of using Twitter on the day of the earthquake out of those who used it before the earthquake (60.5 percent) is much higher than those for Facebook (45.4 percent) and Mixi (40.9 percent) users. That is, Twitter was utilized more than Facebook and Mixi to cope with the disaster. This result is consistent with results for research question 5, which found that Twitter users exhibited higher dependency on social media for understanding the Fukushima nuclear accident than Facebook and Mixi users. The results can also be related to reports describing the instant surge of traffic on Twitter when an emergency or an important event occurs (Computer Business Review, 2011; Twitter Blog, 2011).

Goals and social media

Different types of social media were examined with regard to the goals conceptualized in media system dependency theory and communication infrastructure theory. Facebook and Mixi were predominantly used to communicate with friends and family and to check on their safety after the earthquake, while Twitter was mainly used to acquire information about the earthquake and subsequent events. The present study is one of the first empirical studies to highlight the different dependency relations with Facebook, Mixi and Twitter in disaster situations. Twitter was more associated with the understanding goal that has been the main goal for connecting to mass media in previous disaster studies that applied media system dependency theory (Hirschburg, et al., 1986; Kim, et al., 2004). On the other hand, Facebook and Mixi were more associated with the interpersonal communication goal that was not included in mass media studies but was added with the communication infrastructure framework. As more and more media incorporate interactivity into their affordances, traditional goals for connecting to media will be expanded. In addition, the distinction between mass and interpersonal media is blurring. The flow of stories across micro–, meso– and macro–levels of communication should be more actively incorporated into communication models (Jung and Moro, 2012; Marwick and boyd, 2011).

Different goals associated with different types of social media are consistent with a recent study by Hughes and his colleagues (2012), which compared Facebook and Twitter in terms of psychological antecedents. Hughes, et al. reported that sociability is associated with Facebook use, while a need for cognition is associated with Twitter. Sociability is likely to motivate individuals to use Facebook to communicate with others while need for cognition is likely to be fulfilled by seeking information on Twitter. Learmonth (2009) distinguished Facebook and Twitter by stating that “Facebook users tend to connect to all their friends and family ... [while] Twitter is about thoughtful pieces and opinions you want to put out” [4]. After the 11 March earthquake in Japan, several blogs and news articles mentioned what people did with a particular social media platform. For example, Hickins (2011) mentioned that Facebook was largely used to check on other people’s safety and to report to friends about one’s safety and situation, while Wallop (2011) reported that Twitter was useful for getting news. This study confirms those observations that people tend to use Twitter more for obtaining information, and Facebook and Mixi mainly for communicating with friends and family in emergency situations. That is, while Facebook, Mixi and Twitter were widely used after the earthquake among young people, the functions of each form of social media differed. As each social media platform matures, how its uniqueness will evolve is left for us to observe.

Relative importance of social media

The present study also found that although the majority of the respondents (81 percent) said that they used social media on the day of the earthquake, the relative importance of social media among 10 other forms of media was not high. When asked to choose the two most helpful media outlets for understanding the Fukushima nuclear accident, 16.2 percent chose social media, which ranked fifth. Television (78.2 percent), online news (19 percent), face–to–face communication (17.1 percent) and print newspapers (17.1 percent) ranked higher than social media. This result indicates that although social media have become one of the important ways to understand what is going on during a disaster situation, the hyped attention on social media may be overrated. The result supports media system dependency theory’s main thesis that the centrality of mass media increases when the ambiguity in the social environment increases. In disaster situations, the dominance of mass media tends to increase. Particularly, the increased dependency on television in disaster situations has been found in past disaster and media studies (Hirschburg, et al., 1986; Kim, et al., 2004) and is evident in this study. Particularly, the fact that this study was done among college students, who are usually the lowest television connectors (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 2011), reinforces the idea that although social media have become an important form of media for obtaining information, they do not yet dominate the existing forms of mass media. Dependency on social media should be considered part of a communication ecology, where new media forms enter and improve their status while older media forms maintain theirs. This process is always dynamic and evolutionary, rather than revolutionary.

The importance of social media for understanding the Fukushima accident differed in terms of which particular social media were mainly used. The results indicated that Twitter users considered social media’s relative importance to be higher than Facebook and Mixi users. We can infer, therefore, that when individuals had various options for obtaining information after the earthquake, Twitter dependency was significantly higher than Facebook and Mixi dependency after the natural disaster. This result has important implications for the potential use of Twitter in disaster situations. Twitter may be useful in a disaster situation due to its multi–level functionality (Jung and Moro, 2012). Particularly, Twitter was highly utilized as a communication network at different levels. At the macro–level, the central government and mass media actively used Twitter to send out information to citizens. Meso–level organizations, such as local governments, local media and embassies likewise activated Twitter accounts and communicated with residents and members. Also, bloggers and curators actively gathered and sent out important messages. The hashtag (#) function in Twitter allowed users to search for information and upload information related to specific topics, such as “tsunami” or “nuclear accident.” Twitter’s multi–functionalities and its utilization as a communication network are among the important reasons for the wide usage of Twitter in disaster situations (Jung and Moro, 2012; Marwick and boyd, 2011).

Social media connectors and non–connectors

This study found that those who did not use social media on the day of the earthquake used print newspapers and radio significantly more than those who did use social media on the day of the earthquake. Although the results cannot be qualified as evidence of media displacement, they do have implications for the changing media environment. Studies have already observed displacement effects of the Internet and social media (Dimmick, et al., 2004; Kayany and Yelsma, 2000; Lee and Leung, 2008; Nie and Hillygus, 2002; Noack, 1998). Particularly, the displacement of newspapers by online content has been reported (De Waal and Schoenbach, 2010; Westlund and Färdigh, 2011). For example, De Waal and Schoenbach (2010) revealed a displacement relationship among readers’ consumption of print newspapers, online newspapers, and other Web sites. Particularly, print newspapers were gradually being replaced by their online versions, while online newspapers themselves were affected by other types of Internet sites, such as portal, blog and social media sites. With regard to the radio, Albarran and his colleagues (2007) found that new ways of listening to the radio and music are becoming more popular among youth, and they tend to derive more gratification from online sources and MP3s than traditional radio. Whether the relative importance of print newspapers and radio in an emergency situation will continue to decline in the future is certainly a concern for media scholars and journalists.

Limitations and future implications

The results of this study should be interpreted with caution due to non–random sampling. A survey of university students does not represent the general Japanese population. Conducting large–scale research in the context of an unpredictable disaster is difficult due to time pressures and funding matters. In addition, it is likely to be a sensitive matter when a researcher conducts a survey or interview and asks respondents to report on a traumatic event that they just experienced. Despite these difficulties, a more systematic study on individuals’ media use after the disaster is needed in order to provide helpful information for future disasters. A large–scale survey can be complemented by interviews or focus groups where participants can provide more in–depth narratives about their use of various different media types for different goals after a disaster. The current study revealed different functionalities for different forms of social media and also highlighted the relationship between the use of social media and the use of other types of media in a disaster situation. Given the increasing number of social media users, future studies should continue to examine the position of social media in relation to other types of new and old media in disaster situations. End of article

 

About the author

Joo–Young Jung (Ph.D., University of Southern California) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Media, Communication and Culture at International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan. Her research interests include social implications of new communication technologies in the changing communication environment. Her research has been published in communication journals such as Communication Research, New Media & Society, Political Communication and the International Journal of Mobile Communication.
E–mail: jungjy [at] icu [dot] ac [dot] jp

 

Notes

1. Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010, p. 61.

2. Ibid.

3. Ball–Rokeach and Jung, 2009, p. 540.

4. Learmonth, 2009, pp. 2–3.

 

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Appendix: Selected survey questions used in this study

This survey investigates how people used various communication technologies available to them to cope with uncertain situations in the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake.

  1. If you have been a user of social media, which social media did you usually use prior to the Tohoku earthquake? (Choose ALL that apply)

    1. Facebook
    2. Twitter
    3. Mixi
    4. 2 channel
    5. Video sites (Youtube, Ustream, Nico–nico douga, etc.)
    6. blog sites (Ameba, Livedoor, etc.)
    7. Others (Please specify __________________________________)
    8. Did not use social media

  2. How did you first find out about the magnitude (epicenter and seriousness) of the earthquake? (Choose ONE)

    a. Face–to–face communication
    b. TV (including mobile one–seg)
    c. Radio
    d. Mobile phone voice calls
    e. Mobile phone text messaging
    f. Mobile phone emails
    g. Newspapers (print form)
    h. Online newspapers
    i. Online portals
    j. Social media
    k. Others (Please specify____________________________)

  3. If you used social media on the day of the earthquake, which one did you use primarily? (Choose ONE)

    1. Facebook
    2. Twitter
    3. Mixi
    4. 2 channel
    5. Video sites (Youtube, Ustream, Nico–nico douga, etc.)
    6. blog sites (Ameba, Livedoor, etc.)
    7. Others (Please specify __________________________________)
    8. Did not use social media

  4. What were your reasons for using the above–chosen social medium? (Choose ALL that apply)

    1. To learn what was happening
    2. To learn if people you knew were safe
    3. To let others know that you were safe
    4. To make your view of the earthquake public (including uploading photos or videos)
    5. Others (Specify____________________________________________)

  5. If you used social media, which one in the list below was the most useful to communicate with others? (Choose ONE)

    1. Facebook
    2. Twitter
    3. Mixi
    4. 2 channel
    5. Video sites (Youtube, Ustream, Nico–nico douga, etc.)
    6. blog sites (Ameba, Livedoor, etc.)
    7. Others (Please specify __________________________________)
    8. Did not use social media

  6. If you used social media, which one in the list below was the most useful to get information about what was going on? (Choose ONE)

    1. Facebook
    2. Twitter
    3. Mixi
    4. 2 channel
    5. Video sites (Youtube, Ustream, Nico–nico douga, etc.)
    6. blog sites (Ameba, Livedoor, etc.)
    7. Others (Please specify __________________________________)
    8. Did not use social media

  7. What were the TWO most helpful media for daily updates on the situation at Fukushima nuclear plants?

    a. Face–to–face communication
    b. TV (including mobile one–seg)
    c. Radio
    d. Newspapers (print form)
    e. Online newspapers
    f. Online portals
    g. Social media (Specify________________________)
    h. Mobile phone voice calls
    i. Mobile phone text messaging
    j. Mobile phone emails
    k. PC emails
    l. Others (Please specify____________________________)

  8. What is your age?

    (      ) years old

  9. What is your gender?

    1. Male
    2. Female

  10. What is your nationality?

    (      )

  11. Where are you from? (City in Japan or Country — if from outside of Japan)

    (      )

This is the end of the survey. Thank you very much for your cooperation.

 


Editorial history

Received June 12 2012; revised 26 June 2012; revised 16 July 2012; accepted 16 July 2012.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution–NonCommercial–NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Social media use and goals after the Great East Japan Earthquake
by Joo–Young Jung
First Monday, Volume 17, Number 8 - 6 August 2012
http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4071/3285
doi:10.5210/fm.v17i8.4071





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