Japan Earthquake and Tsunami: Social Media Spreads News, Raises Relief Funds

Survivors turn to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to share their stories.

March 11, 2011, 4:42 PM

March 11, 2011— -- The record-setting 8.9 magnitude earthquake that rocked Japan today sent millions around the globe to social media websites to spread news, share videos and donate to help victims of the quake and the tsunami in the Pacific.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, Japan's mobile phones were largely silenced because of a spike in demand. For many, including American travelers and expats, Facebook and Twitter became the best link to worried family members.

Watch "World News with Diane Sawyer" for the latest on the "Disaster in the Pacific" tonight.

Dan Schallau, an American who has lived in Japan for nearly a decade, was driving in his car when the quake struck. While he and his wife are fine, he said that he was "overwhelmed" by e-mails from concerned friends and family in the U.S. A blast message on Facebook allowed him to spread the news quickly.

"Basically, I posted on Facebook, 'Thank you for your concern. I'll get back to you," he said.

Nicholas Savino, an American law student, was landing in Japan during spring break at the moment the earthquake hit. When he stepped off the plane, he found the country's phone infrastructure largely in disarray.

"I've been using the Internet to speak exclusively. The phone networks have been down," Savino said, adding that he has relied primarily on e-mail and social networking to communicate. "Luckily, the hotel has Internet."

Google even set up a "Person Finder" web app to link victims with family. More than 7,000 records were entered on the site as of this afternoon.

Thousands of Videos Shared on YouTube

Before the earth even stopped shaking in Japan, plenty of people had the presence of mind to pull out video cameras and share the scenes around them with the world.

As of this afternoon, more than 9,000 earthquake-related videos and 7,000 tsunami-related videos had been uploaded to YouTube in the hours since the disaster began, the video sharing site told ABC News.

YouTube, Twitter Spike with Japan Earthquake News

Many of the YouTube clips showed gripping first-person accounts of homes shaking, grocery store shelves rocking, and scared crowds standing in the streets.

In one dramatic video, the camera operator taped while fleeing a quaking home. The images of boxes falling and picture frames swaying had been viewed more than 1 million times by this afternoon.

On Twitter, hashtags such as #prayforjapan, Fukushima and Sundai rose to the top of the site's "trending topics" index as people spread news and images of the quake.

Even Tokyo Disneyland jumped to the top of the list, fueled in part by a photo posted on TwitPic showing crowds of Japanese tourists seated on the ground during the quake in the middle of the Disney theme park.

Aid organizations also rushed to leverage social media to collect funds for disaster victims.

"Text REDCROSS" surged as a trending topic on Twitter as the organization began to collect $10 donations to assist victims in Japan and tsunami victims around the Pacific Rim. The Red Cross said this afternoon that it's still too early to tell how much money has been received through the text system, which was used to great success to raise money after last year's earthquake in Haiti.

ABC's Michael Murray and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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