Daily Archives: 2011年3月19日

Earthquake and hoax on Twitter

First of all, I’d like to express my hearty sympathy for all the persons and pets affected by the earthquake and tsunamis in Eastern part of Japan.

And for all of my friends abroad, thank you very much for your concern and comments. As reported, all of us in Japan office are safe. We have several problems but overall we’re getting back to normal daily life, at least in Tokyo.

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Meat and fish in supermarket today in Tokyo, today (Mar 19)

I heard foreign media is reporting supermarkets in Japan are lacking the goods to be sold. Actually we have good supply including fresh food as you see. I took these photos today.

However, there are certainly several problems that are affecting our daily life and business:

  • Electricity: Currently rotational, scheduled black-out is in force around Tokyo. Also government is asking people to save electricity as much as possible. It is also affecting the business through for example longer delivery lead time (including our own).
  • Train: Because of above black-out, less trains than usual and commuting to the office is affected.
  • Emergency supplies: Batteries, hand lights, radios, toilet rolls, tissue paper and several other products are sold out.
  • Local food and drink: For example, they have limited supply of milk because they are mostly produced in the affected area.

I hope these will be solved as soon as possible.

After the earthquake, I had several interesting experiences. One of them is hoax on Twitter.

There is something called “ReTweet” in Twitter. It is to forward a tweet that you think good to your follower. In other words, it is a way to agree and to recommend someone else’s tweet. So, a hoax can spread very quickly by retweeting if that looks real and important.

One example was a hoax Tweet saying “Plz diffuse: A tank containing toxic chemical at the petroleum factory of Cosmo Oil exploded. It spilled toxic gas and that will fall with rain. Do not go out when it rains. Never expose your skin.” FYI Cosmo Oil is actually existing petroleum company.
This one was diffused over Japanese-speaking Twitter society very rapidly. It started at around 10-11am on Mar 12, the next day of earthquake, and became very popular RT (ReTweet) by noon. It became popular rapidly partly because a tank of Cosmo Oil facility actually burned by the quake, and that scene was broadcasted on TV many times. People who saw the tweet thought it could be true, and retweeted.

The news showing the burn of tank said “LPG tank is burning”. When LPG burns, nothing other than CO2 and water is made (unless impurity is contained in the gas). So some people wrote skeptic comment against above hoax, but that was in vain. Majority of people linked the visual image of burning gas tank to toxic chemical hoax, and believed it’s true.

There were many varieties of the hoax in a short time. Popular one had introduction of “The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare of Japan warned that …” Another one goes “According to my friend working for Cosmo Oil …” Apparently, there is some kind of malicious intent. If everyone is doing this for goodwill, that kind of variety can’t exist. It is a sad fact that some people tried to use this kind of big, fatal disaster to satisfy such an evil intent.

It is also interesting that, in the end, it is combined with the accident of nuclear power plant, and finally goes like this. “A tank containing toxic chemical exploded and spilled out radiating isotope. Be careful to radiation.” Some people seemed to believe even this version.
Even after both of Cosmo Oil and local government officially denied this hoax, some still showed conspiracy, saying something like “The denial is only for official and my friend at Cosmo Oil told me to escape.”

There were several other hoaxes over Twitter, even in English. One example is “The creator of Pokemon, Mr. Tajiri is dead because of the tsunami”. Of course actually he’s not. This hoax is possibly because there is a town called “Tajiri” in the affected area and someone who heard the news took it for the person’s name. This hoax also spread over, even among those used hash tag of #prayforjapan.

In the flat world, hoax can spread much quicker throughout much larger area, and we need to decide what is true by our own knowledge and intelligence. The bottom line, I believe, is that you should ignore any rumor that starts with “My friend at XXXX told me…”