Skip to main content

Emergent Use of Twitter in the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake

  • Junko Umihara (a1) and Mariko Nishikitani (a2)

Social networks play an important role in disaster situations as they have become a new form of social convergence that provides collective information. The effect of social media on people who experienced disaster should be assessed.


In this study, Twitter communication during the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011 was assessed. The hypothesis of this study was that usage of Twitter had psychological effects on victims of the disaster.


A cross-sectional questionnaire survey was carried out in cooperation with a major Japanese newspaper three months after the disaster, and 1,144 volunteer participants responded. They were asked about their health, area of residence, property damage they had experienced, information sources they used at the time of the disaster, and their usage of Twitter. Further, the Twitter users were divided into two groups—with and without disaster experience. Their psychological effects relating to feelings of relief, stress or anxiety that they experienced in using Twitter were compared between two groups, and Twitter's psychological risk of disaster experience was estimated as an odds ratio.


Twitter users in this study tended to reside in disaster-affected areas and thought Twitter was a credible information source during the time of the disaster. The psychological effect of Twitter differed based on participants’ disaster experience and gender. Females with disaster experience reported more feelings of relief and stress as a result of using Twitter compared to females who did not experience the disaster. On the other hand, males with disaster experience only reported more stress experiences as a result of using Twitter compared to those without disaster experience.


Twitter users with disaster experience had a higher usage of Twitter than those without disaster experience. Social media might have had a material psychological influence on people who experienced disaster, and the effect differed by gender. Regardless of gender, negative feelings were transmitted easily among people who experienced the disaster. It was anticipated that the application of Twitter in a disaster situation will be expanded further by taking these findings into consideration.

UmiharaJ, NishikitaniM. Emergent Use of Twitter in the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. Prehosp Disaster Med.2013;28(5):1-7.

Corresponding author
Correspondence: Junko Umihara, MD, PhD Hakuoh University 1117 Daigyouji, Oyamashi Tochigi 323-0041, Japan E-mail
Hide All
1. Wikipedia. 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Accessed September 1, 2012.
2.Eisenman, DP, Cordasco, KM, Asch, S, Golden, JF, Glik, D. Disaster planning and risk communication with vulnerable communities: lessons from Hurricane Katrina. Am J Public Health. 2007;97(Suppl 1):S109-S115.
3.Sutton, J, Palen, L, Shklovski, I. Back channels on the front lines: emergent uses of social media in the 2007 Southern California wildfires. Paper presented at: the 5th International ISCRAM Conference, 2008, Washington, DC.
4.Viewed, S, Palen, L, Liu, SB, Hughes, AL, Sutton, J. Collective intelligence in disaster: examination of the phenomenon in the aftermath of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting. Presented at: the 5th International ISCRAM Conference, 2008, Washington, DC.
5.Keim, ME, Noji, E. Emergent use of social media: a new age of opportunity for disaster resilience. Am J Disaster Med. 2011;6(1):47-54.
6.Stallings, R, Quarantelli, E. Emergent citizen groups and emergency management. Public Adm Rev. 1985;45:93-100.
7.Taylor-Clark, KA, Viswanath, K, Blendon, RJ. Communication inequalities during public health disasters: Katrina's wake. Health Commun. 2010;25(3):221-229.
8. Ministry of International Affairs and Communications, Japan. Information and communications in Japan (White Paper 2011). Accessed September 1, 2012.
9. Yomiuri Media Kit. Accessed September 1, 2012.
10. National Police Agency (Japan). Countermeasures for the Great East Japan Earthquake. Accessed September 1, 2012.
11.Haddock, CK, Poston, WSC, Pyle, SA, et al. The validity of self-rated health as a measure of health status among young military personnel: evidence from a cross-sectional survey. Health Qual Life Outcomes. 2006;29(4):57.
12.Heistaro, S, Jousilahti, P, Lahelma, E, Vartiainen, E, Puska, P. Self-rated health and mortality: a long-term prospective study in eastern Finland. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2001;55(4):227-232.
13.Sheehan, DV, Lecrubier, Y, Sheehan, KH, et al. The Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview (M.I.N.I): the development and validation of a structured diagnostic psychiatric interview for DSM-IV and ICD-10. J Clin Psychiatry. 1998;59:22-23.
14. User Local Inc. (Japanese) Accessed September 1, 2012.
15. Ministry of International Affairs and Communications, Japan. Population Estimates 2011. Japan. Accessed September 1, 2012.
16.Suzuki, D. Zen Buddhism and its influence on Japanese Culture. The Eastern Buddhist Society. 1938.
17.Umihara, J. Twitter Kofuku Ron [Twitter and Well-being]. (Japanese). Tokyo: Kadokawa Publishing. 2011.
18.Osofsky, HJ, Osofsky, JD, Kronenberg, M, Brennan, A, Hansel, TC. Posttraumatic stress symptoms in children after Hurricane Katrina: predicting the need for mental health services. Am J Orthopsychiatry. 2009;79(2):212-220.
19.Decamp, M. Social media guidance, conflicts of interest, and health inequalities. Lancet. 2012;380:472-473.
20.Mansfield, SJ, Bonning, MA, Morrison, SG, et al. Social networking and health. Lancet. 2011;377:2083-2084.
21.Klein, K, Boals, A. Expressive writing can increase working memory capacity. J Exp Psychol Gen. 2001;130(3):520-533.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Prehospital and Disaster Medicine
  • ISSN: 1049-023X
  • EISSN: 1945-1938
  • URL: /core/journals/prehospital-and-disaster-medicine
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed