Social Media, Information and Political Activism in Japan’s 3.11 Crisis via Japan Focus

This paper charts chronologically the different phases since 3.11, showing how social media became involved in each. During the first crucial moments after disaster, individuals texting and tweeting information, and uploading videos, generated huge amounts of first-hand information, from the size and epicenter of the quake to the arrival of the oncoming waters; the identification of dangerous and safe places, routes and contacts; those lost and alive, and those looking for them. What we see here is not only the nearly unprecedented act of appealing to strangers for help, but also the revealing of emotions that rarely if ever is shared in public discourse. Asking for help from strangers is a significant act of trust, maybe even more unusual in Japan than in other societies; offering help is a way to return that trust. In this way, one of the issues that this paper points to is the way that social media as deployed during and after 3.11 has made us rethink the nature and efficacy of the civic sphere in Japan.

In the second part of the paper, we chart how the alternatives provided by social media take on an explicitly political face, allowing national and international anti-nuclear networks to mobilize some of the largest protests to take place in Tokyo in decades. The recruitment of otherwise disenfranchised individuals, the linkage of them to alternative sources of information and opinion, and the organization of on-the-ground events, were all centrally facilitated by social media. In short, social media link both to the mainstream media and to the individual. It is equally important to note that through the links made herein, what were once considered the personal, private, even intimate domains of micro-sociality became engaged in an alternative politics that reached others around the world. The final section of this paper reviews the role that social media played in the events leading up to the September anti-nuclear power march of 60,000 people, and the six months since.

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