How news of Japan's earthquake, tsunami spread on Facebook

How news of Japan's earthquake, tsunami spread on Facebook

Summary: Here are some more details on how Facebook played a communication role in the recent earthquake and resulting tsunami and Japan.


The Facebook Page "Global Disaster Relief on Facebook" has posted 10 graphs that show how news of Japan's 8.9 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami spread on the social network via status messages, courtesy of the Facebook Data Team. Although the actual map used is quite old and thus inaccurate (the Soviet Union was disbanded two decades ago), the data overlaid on top is quite interesting (I've put together a Photo Gallery for your viewing pleasure).

The images incorporate 4.5 million status updates from 3.8 million users on Facebook, relating to "Japan", "earthquake", and "tsunami" as a function of time. It is the first time the social network has plotted status updates on a map in this way.

The events in Japan were all over Facebook, with countless posts being made every second. Frequent status updates provided information about both natural disasters as well as the situation of family and friends in the country.

Users swapped news articles, photos, and video footage about both the earthquake and tsunami. In Japan, Facebook served as a communications alternative as many cell phones had stopped working. For many around the world, the social network was a primary source of information for the tragedy and its consequences.

I have already been invited to two events on Facebook asking me to donate and help those in Japan, and while they seem perfectly legitimate, scams are already spreading on the social network. Fraudsters around the world are quickly taking advantage of this tragic event, as they have done in the past to solicit donations and spread malware via charity scams and fake news websites.

If you want to donate via Facebook, the aforementioned Facebook Page is a good place to start. For example, here are the last three updates:

The U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, Japan and KadenaAirBase are telling their Facebook fans that monetary donations are preferred over clothing and goods for victims of last week's earthquake and tsunami. Learn more:

Zynga and Facebook have partnered with Save the Children's Japan Earthquake Tsunami Emergency Fund to get users to donate money through the purchase of virtual goods in CityVille, FrontierVille, FarmVille and other games.

The American Red Cross and Save the Children are using the popular Facebook application Causes to raise money for victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Consider giving to the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Emergency Fund ( and the Help Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami Victims ( campaign today.

One of my friends is currently in Japan for a year, and the easiest way to make sure she was okay was to check her Facebook profile. Thankfully, she was just barely affected by the disaster. Another close friend of mine has family in the country, and although I tried to call and text her over the weekend, she did not respond. I'm sure she received many messages from concerned friends and was overwhelmed. Today, I saw a reassuring status update that included a thank you to all her friends.

How did you and your friends use Facebook to discuss what happened in Japan?

Topic: Social Enterprise

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years,
he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars
Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Use Japan's public TV for a source

    Another source was Japan's own public TV station: NHK World which one could either watch and listen to on their PC's or download the app on their smartphone. Much of what the major news networks broadcast came from that source. That information has also been posted on Facebook.
    • RE: How news of Japan's earthquake, tsunami spread on Facebook

      earth quake makes me think about end times
  • I didn't...

    I used Twitter mostly since FB is evil and I don't have one. I was also watching a lot of NHK World since CNN was streaming it live for a long time. I only understood what was translated (which wasn't much) but the pictures, videos, and tones of voice spoke for themselves.
  • RE: How news of Japan's earthquake, tsunami spread on Facebook

    I am in Japan and used old fashioned e-mail to bulk message my family/close friends to reassure all is OK.
    I can't imagine the time/effort involved being swamped with inquiries from all my "friends"/feeling compelled to provide updates, etc, etc in FB.

    For the record, I did have a FB account with 300 plus "friends" but got rid of it. A complete waste of time.
  • FB Connections in Japan

    I also know someone in Japan. I and many of his other friends and family waited anxiously for two days to hear from him. There was much relief when he got power back and could let us know he was okay. In the meantime, it helped to be able to look at the status of a friend of his who also lives in Japan, not too far from him. That person had power and was able to give us a general sense of the conditions in their area (not as bad as farther north, but still messed up).
  • Not trying to rain on your parade

    but I find the website a great source of information on facebook scams. I check it almost daily and I found information on this yesterday.
  • japan

    this news will spread creazily on facebook