When the earthquake struck Japan on March 11, former Bellevue KBCS program director Robert Jefferson was on his way home to Kamakura-shi, Kanagawa, from his job as an anchor at Japan’s public broadcasting station NHK in Tokyo. After a frightening journey home, he did what many thousands of others in Japan did to reassure their terrified loved ones: he got on Facebook.
I made it home…
by Robert Jefferson on Friday, March 11, 2011 at 1:09am
Hi family and friends. I made it home from Tokyo to Kamakura safe and sound. Power’s out, so I’m using candles, which I have lots of and the batteries on my wireless computers ’til they peter out. Since I’m a prepper I’ve got food and water to last quite a few days. … This is the biggest quake to hit Japan in 300 years, so reports Al Jazeera. Thanks you all for your concerns and prayers. The next few days are going to be tough for our brothers and sisters in northeastern Japan. Let’s keep them in mind.
Much love to you all, Robert
Jefferson says Facebook has been invaluable during this crisis.
“Facebook has completely changed the way in which I communicate with friends and family in the States and around the world. It’s like having one big digital conference call that allows any of my friends to join in. Facebook allows me to keep in touch anytime, day or night, with my nieces, cousins, sisters, brother and mother. We also use Skype very often for the visual reassurance that all is well with each other.”
As other media have reported, the earthquake, tsunami and escalating nuclear disaster in Japan have demonstrated the power and reach of social media. In a country with a cell phone penetration rate of 95 percent, the mobile web, text and video output in just the first few days after the disaster was stunning. Hundreds of videos – many in excellent HD quality – were posted on YouTube’s Citizentube within just a few days with several having reached over 5 million views. While the scope of the tragedy unfolded, millions Tweeted and posted on Facebook as Google launched its PersonFinder application to help connect the missing with loved ones. As reported by Mercer Island Patch, one local family located their son safe in Japan using the tool.
Even the U.S. Embassy, recognizing the fear created by jammed or failed phone lines, advised U.S. citizens in Japan to use social media to connect with loved ones via Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.
Kirsten Henning, the interim director of the Japanese Cultural Community Center of Washington (JCCCW), says for the Japanese American community in Seattle, social media has played a huge role in organizing relief and keeping in touch.
“This is the first time I have used Facebook for such serious purposes. One of my friends in Japan (was found) after posting on Facebook and reported she was evacuated out of Miyagi prefecture. All our volunteers at the JCCCW have heard about their friends and family through social media. After the earthquake the power went out, and once people were able to get phone reception they were able to use email and Facebook but now their phones are dying and they have no electricity.”
Henning is part of a group of Japanese American organizations and others who organized hours after the earthquake to create Seattle Japan Relief, an umbrella organization to combine local relief efforts from the Japanese American community. Within 48 hours they had a website up, 2,500 unique visitors by days end and were accepting donations to Peace Winds America – a Japanese based relief organization with offices in Seattle, the Red Cross and the YMCA.
Now four days later, the nascent organization has a Facebook page and Twitter account. “It’s incredible to see how fast things move,” Henning says. “More and more organizations are calling to be involved. People are calling all throughout the day. As hard as this is to watch, it’s humbling to see people come together like this.”
Seattle Japan Relief volunteer My Tam Nguyen says social media is key. “[Through social media] there is a sense of digital solidarity, we all can invest in a page by liking it, we can all support an organization or a campaign we believe in by re-Tweeting it. It’s changed the community dialogue and is engaging non-activists and organizers to be involved and take action.”
Quick Links to Seattle-Based Relief Efforts
Seattle Japan Relief – Umbrella group raising funds for Peace Winds America, Red Cross and YMCA
Red White Unite – Dine out for Japan
Dining Out for Japan – Seattle Magazine list of restaurants