News of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan -- an event that triggered a 32-foot tsunami and has killed hundreds of people so far -- is dominating media headlines around the world, even as the ripple effects are not yet fully understood.
As in the case of other natural disasters, social media is at the heart of the coverage. From prayer requests to on-site reports to cries for help, social media is delivering messages of the earthquake and tsunami victims. Citizens of Japan, California, Oregon, Hawaii and beyond tapped into the power of social media to share information.
Checking in on Twitterverse
The disaster is drawing plenty of tweets from celebrities. Ellen Degeneres tweeted, "I'm watching all this news of the tsunami in Japan. It breaks my heart. My thoughts go out to everyone affected."
Meanwhile, comedian and actor Robin Williams tweets, "Dear Earthquakes, Floods, Tsunami & Hurricanes... It isn't 2012 yet, check your calendar first. Sincerely Humans."
Former wrestler-turned-actor "The Rock" tweets, "Our prayers, love and support for JAPAN and its families during this tragic time...STAY STRONG...USA."
There are also plenty of shouts out for donations to the Red Cross. UberSoc tweets, "Our thoughts are with those in Japan. If you would like to help you can txt REDCROSS to 90999 to make a donation to @RedCross." And markhoppus tweets, "Horrible what's happening in Japan. You can text REDCROSS to 90999 to send $10 to relief efforts. Thoughts and prayers."
Then there's the news updates. The Scientific American posted, "Tokyo Electric Power Co says pressure inside a reactor at its Fukushima-Daiichinuclear plant is rising, w/risk of leak" with a link to its story. And citizen reporters are getting in on the coverage, posting photos.
Even President Barack Obama took to Twitter to express his thoughts on the disaster: "Sending condolences to the people of Japan, particularly those who lost loved ones in the earthquake & tsunamis. U.S. stands ready to help."
A Trusted Source?
"Social media is a one-to-many forum and it's viral. It's much faster than voice because once you have the message, all you have to do is hit a key to forward it," says Rob Enderle, principal analyst at The Enderle Group.
Often, he points out, people don't have immediate access to a radio or TV for news, for example while they're at work. Increasingly though, people are keeping a smartphone with them, making it a key source for news and updates, especially when disaster hits.
With traditional media, Enderle says, there is a truck to roll out and reporters to deploy. By contrast, at any event where there are people, there are people who can report their own perspectives. Reporters, no matter how big your pool is, are always a limited resource.
"As far as a source of information, social media becomes a faster one. It doesn't necessarily mean a better one, because it can certainly be a source of hoaxes," Enderle said. "But in terms of speed, everybody that has a phone and a social media account is an on-site reporter. I do think at some point we are going to want to set up trust networks, but for now it is certainly faster. The quality can be varied."