Tweet Responsibly

The earthquake was beneath the sea floor off the coast of the Bonin Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Over the course of the next 3 hours after the earthquake, various news and scientific communities analyzed, reported and adjusted their views on whether or not a tsunami was generated and the scope of the risk to the public. The official source and also the best source of information on the Japanese coastline Tsunami watch and warnings as well as observations of the actual waves can be found on the JapanMeteorological Agency website http://www.jma.go.jp/en/tsunami/index.html.


Look through the tweets below, what would you think? It’s no surprise that some countries scrambled to confirm facts and quell rumors of impacts to their coastlines. Social Media users who are sharing information regarding emerging events need to be cognizant of how their message will be received by others.  Twitter has no geographic boundaries.  Saying Tsunami Warning or no tsunami for the west coast has no value to someone when the location is missing.  Worse than that…someone may assume the message is for their location and it is for another country.


Imagine you are living in a coastal community somewhere in the world, and you see the following messages in Twitter….

Tsunami warning. Seriously no joke. Go listen to the news and stay away from the coast.

Was that helpful?  No?  Let’s see if these help….

1. BREAKING NEWS – Tsunami not expected from 7.4 quake; Japanese Meteorological Agency makes warning for Ogasawara Islands
2. Tsunami Warning. Be careful
3. Japanese Meteorological Association Issues Mild Tsunami Warning #JAPAN #TSUNAMI (link)
4. 7.4 earthquake off Japan’s coast triggered a tsunami warning for remote islands and advisory for so Japan. CNN reports: (link)
5. 7.4 quake hits Japan, tsunami warning issued
6. Earthquake Hits Coast Of Japan, Tsunami Warning Issued
7. Tsunami Information: sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated. It may have been destructive along coasts near (continued on link)
8. Tsunami Information: no destructive widespread tsunami threat exists based on historical earthquake data. Ho…(continued on link)
9. 7.4 Japan quakeundefinedbut NO tsunami threat for the west coast
10. Tsunami Information (Pacific): no destructive widespread tsunami threat exists based on historical earthquake and tsunami
11. Just checked the PTWC and there’s no Tsunami warning for the Pacific Ocean


Considering just the choice of words (and not making any assessment on facts) the most effective use of Twitter for communicating this event would be #4.  7.4 earthquake off Japan’s coast triggered a tsunami warning for remote islands and advisory for so Japan. CNN reports: (link).  This message clearly states the location of not only the earthquake but most importantly – the location under the threat of a tsunami warning and an advisory for southern Japan and also includes the source of the information.  Another good one is #3 Japanese Meteorological Association Issues Mild Tsunami Warning #JAPAN #TSUNAMI (link).

Here is a message that fell far short of its desire to educate the public #8. Tsunami Information: no destructive widespread tsunami threat exists based on historical earthquake data. Ho…(continued on link) There is no locatio

n information in the message and the most critical piece of information needed by Japan and all of the other countries interested in know about the impact for their coastlines was information that ran over the twitter limit of 140 characters.

Would the name of the twitter user sway your decision on what story to believe?  If the name of the twitter account included the name Tsunami, NOAA, Earthquake, Quake, CNN,

News, or any variation, would that improve your confidence in the information shared? We encourage the public to follow the guidance of their local officials during a disaster.  But some twitter users appear to be official and are not. There are times also when information from official channels is published too slowly to ensure the safety of the public.  When a tsunami wave travels at up to 500 miles an hour and starts only a few miles offshore, there may not be sufficient time to analyze the buoy data and warn the public.

Social Media tools can be very valuable and quite powerful during disaster.  The medium can be used to connect people with needed aid and connect aid agencies with people in need.  Disaster preparedness and response actions can be immediately delivered to thousands and millions of people who are in need. The risk of misleading the public impacted (and the public not impacted) because of this widespread visibility is perhaps equally concerning

The good news is that the tsunami wave generated was small and did not cause damage or loss of life.  The bad news is that the real facts were only confirmed hours after the earthquake and only after the small wave struck the remote islands south of the Japanese mainland.

If you live in a community at risk for a tsunami, connect with your local officials and be sure to have a plan for not only what to do if the threat is imminent but also know how will you be notified that a threat is imminent.  While it can be a powerful life saving source of information, don’t rely on Social Media as your only source of information.

And if you are tweeting disaster information keep in mind the fact that your message will be visible not only by your intended audience, but also by the global community.  Before you tweet, be sure you are providing information that is accurate, pertinent and contains information that will not increase the risk of the safety of the public.  Tweet responsibly.

Humanity Road is a global digital disaster response organization.

Driven by Need, Led by Experience, Powered by Volunteers

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