The 2011 earthquake and the following disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant brought many changes to Japanese society. One that stands out is a new skepticism towards news from traditional sources and a booming use of social media. People mistrust the press because it often lacks detailed and accurate information. Instead, community members of all ages are becoming more educated about technology and starting to dig for information by themselves. One group of this do-it-yourself social media news gathering effort is mothers, who are especially concerned about accurate information on radiation levels.
“Social media like Twitter and Facebook are invaluable to me now,” said Kazumi Yamamura, the mother of a 12-year-old boy living in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo. She organizes a website which reports how much radiation is present in foods such as vegetables, fruit, yogurt, and eggs. She and her friends measure radiation with a special machine and share this information online. “This became my routine after the earthquake,” she said.
On March 11th, 2011, Japan was hit by a massive earthquake, a subsequent tsunami and nuclear disaster. When the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant exploded, she became worried and began to collect information on radiation levels. “At first, I thought that the Japanese government would give us accurate information, because radiation is a big deal and it affects our health, especially our children’s, but the government just repeated its initial claims that radiation would not affect human health immediately.”
As time went on, she became skeptical about the government’s response to the disaster. After she started to look on Twitter and Facebook, she realized that there were many other mothers who were concerned about the health risks of radiation exposure. “We became friends through social media and we shared knowledge and information,” she said.
Three months after the earthquake, Nikko City, which is located 94 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, declared that Nikko was safe. Nikko is a popular tourist destination for students. Some parents expressed concern about food safety and high radiation levels in Nikko. Despite this danger, many elementary schools decided to take a school trip to there after the declaration.
“I was shocked that schools decided to do this even though they had not checked the radiation level by themselves,” said Kazumi Yamamura. She went to Nikko with some parents and measured the radiation levels in various areas.
In some areas, the radiation level was higher than the standard for decontamination. Kazumi remembers how some mothers in Nikko told her that they didn’t want their kids to play outside because radiation levels were sometimes higher than the accepted levels, but it was hard to talk about it publicly. If they said that Nikko was not safe, they would have been criticized by others.
Kazumi was shocked to hear this story and supported the other mothers: “Every mother just wants to protect their kids from radiation, but it has become so hard to express our opinions. Social media is a kind of community through which we can talk about our feelings and experiences openly.”
Three years after the earthquake, the issues relating to the nuclear accident and radiation level have become a kind of taboo. “Actually, I never know which information is trustworthy or not,” Kazumi said. She thinks that 60% of the information on the internet is incorrect and it is necessary to sift through this information to get to the truth. “People have different opinions about the radiation level present in food. The accepted standard depends on the person. People could decide about the safe standard for themselves.”
Kazumi now has 3,000 followers on Twitter. Sometimes, people chastise her, writing such things as, “You are a stupid mother” or “You are selfish. Think about people in Fukushima!” Whenever she reads these comments, she feels discouraged. “One thing I can say is that radiation is not good for one’s health. I want to protect not just my child but every child from radiation. To do that, I will keep working no matter what anyone says.” She will soon open a new website which is more focused on radiation exposure.