Social Media Success and Failures after the Japan Earthquake

Earthquake damage near Yokohama Station

First, we’re all safe here in the Yokohama area. The worst that we’ve had to contend with is the possibility of rolling power blackouts, which pales in comparison to the horrendous scene a few hundred kilometers north of here.  The earthquake was certainly felt here, and we continue to feel regular aftershocks. I have photos of some of the damage in Yokohama here, but overall, we’ve been incredibly lucky. My heart is with the people of northern Honshu.

Screen grab of TimeOutTokyo's Twitter Feed

My most reliable source of information throughout this catastrophe has been Twitter. There are a few sources there, including TimeOutTokyo (which is normally an entertainment and restaurant review source), that have been absolutely fantastic with providing very current English information about the situation. For those of us who can’t speak Japanese, this has been incredibly valuable, and I am very thankful for those who are working tirelessly to get this kind information out.

Screen grab of DFAIT's Twitter Feed. Note the time between updates.

The Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, and the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa has been completely the opposite – most of what they’ve been posting (when they’ve bothered to post anything at all) has been political spin about how the Foreign Affairs minister supports the cause or that their call centre in Ottawa is doing their job (answering the phone – never mind that phone service here did not work for the first six hours, and is still sporadic). I don’t understand why they bother to have a Twitter account at all if they’re only going to use it to post this kind of garbage. That type of stuff is best left for their website, which, along with the main DFAIT website in Ottawa, I wasn’t even able to access for the first two days, even though I’ve had internet service continually since the earthquake happened. I’m registered with the embassy, so they have sent me two emails in the past four days, the first of which was some three hours after the earthquake, and started with “As you may have heard on the news already, a powerful 8.9 magnitude earthquake…struck off the east coast of Honshu, Japan on 11 March 2011 at 14:46 local time (00:46 Ottawa time).”

I haven’t heard it on the news DFAIT, I’ve been living in the midst of it. It seems as though you’re spending my tax dollars on garden parties at the embassy, as you’ve been proven irrelevant by a local entertainment magazine. Thanks for nothing.

Field Studies + Microblogging = very cool indeed

Most of our high school and middle school students have been out this week on field studies all around Japan.  To me, that in itself is already a great concept – I am a firm believer in the value of experiential education (although my own experience taking 40 odd students through Greece and Italy has also shown it to be quite tiring!).

One of our grade ten groups (touring around Hiroshima) has been using their phone cameras and posting their experiences to Posterous and Twitter as they go.  Those of us still at school have been able to tag along on their journey, which has been awesome.  Getting students to put away their cell phones was a constant battle at my last school, but this experience has shown how effective a tool they can be if used properly.