Bright Light and Dark Shadow: Current Topics about Social Media in Japan

Takeo city--a role model for the introduction of social media into Japanese government offices ((C)The Sankei Shimbun & Sankei Digital)

As I wrote previously, the number of social media users in Japan has been dramatically expanding since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. However, anywhere there is a bright light, there has to be a dark shadow. This blog post is about current topics about social media in my country, Japan, to show the brightness and darkness of the new communication tools.

Social Media Enhances the Visibility and Transparency of a Local Government

Takeo city—a small town in western Japan famous for its hot springs—is a role model for the proactive and successful introduction of social media into government offices. Under the mayor’s initiative, the city migrated its official website to Facebook (Japanese language only) last August. Since then, the number of monthly hits to the city‘s  home page has steeply risen from 50,000 to 3.3 million. The city has received positive reactions from citizens. After the city posted a picture of a swollen river taken with a mobile phone, a citizen commented that the timely post was helpful to understand the situation. In addition, the mayor required all 390 city workers to create their own Facebook accounts and to use them for their work starting from April this year. The mayor, Keisuke Watanabe, says in an interview (Japanese only) that the use of Facebook has made the interaction with citizens more visible, and cuts red tape.

Social Media and Criminal Investigation

Social media is rivaling 911 services in crisis response and reporting. As the Rutger University student’s case shows, social media’s role in police investigations is growing. Like the U.S., the new communication platform has become a mainstay in police work in Japan.

The Yomiuri Shimbun–the largest Japanese newspaper and among the world’s most dominant (it sells 14 million copies daily1)–reported (Japanese only) that, using a YouTube video posted by a suspect, the local police in Hyogo prefecture were investigating a crime. The video shows a driver–the suspect–chasing a school boy on a bicycle along a river and shouting to the boy in a threatening tone, “I’m hitting and pushing you into the river!” Reports to the police from viewers of the video helped reveal the identity of the suspect , according to the news.

ISP Steals Users’ Information

On April 4, connectFree k.k. (Japanese only), a Japanese Internet service provider (ISP) led by an American CEO, was reported (Japanese only) to have collected users’ information without their approval, and to have invaded privacy of communication stipulated in the Telecommunications Business Act. The ISP provides users with wireless access to the Internet at convenience stores. The company admits to secretly gathering users’ data, including their Facebook and Twitter user IDs. According to the company, it collected the information to identify suspects in case its network was used for crimes

According to a report on TED 2012, a new browser enables us to know who is tracking us online. The report says, “We are being watched. It’s now time for us to watch the watchers.” Social media’s role is growing in many areas. We must monitor the use of the new communication tools by both public and private sectors, so that they do not go beyond public safety limits or invade individual privacy.

Privacy invasion is not an acceptable price to pay for access to the Internet.

1. Seitel, F. (2011). The Practice of Public Relations. NJ: Prentice Hall

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The Dark Side of Social Media: Facebook Addiction

Zuckerberg and Japan's Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, on March 29, 2012, Tokyo ((C) The Mainichi Newspapers)

Zuckerberg and Japan's Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, on March 29, 2012, Tokyo ((C) The Mainichi Newspapers)

As I wrote in my ealier blog post, Facebook saved many people in Japan during the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. While the phone networks were down, the Internet was relatively unaffected. We were able to use data services and text. Facebook helped us connect with our families and friends unsure of our whereabouts. Japan’s Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, said a big thank you to Facebook at a meeting with the CEO of the company, Mark Zuckerberg, in Tokyo last week.

Facebook has more than 800 million users across the globe. Three weeks ago, the company announced that the number of its monthly active users in Japan doubled to 10 million in six months. However, as my NYU classmate, Jacqueline Zygadlo, wrote in her blog post, “Over-excessive social media usage is a growing problem worthy of being categorized as an addiction.”

This blog post is about examples of adverse effects caused by Facebook.

Friends’ Happy Pictures Make You Feel Down

ABC News reports that people sometimes feel sad when they see happy pictures of their friends on Facebook, making them think their friends are much happier than themselves. According to the report, the more time people spend on the website, the more they think others have better lives.

Having Too Many Friends Is Unhealthy

Alicia Eler writes in her blog post, “Sometimes having more than 250 Facebook friends isn’t very healthy.” In addition, Jackie Cohen says that people really do not know one-fifth of their friends on the website. This means that as the number of friends increases, people have more friends they do not actually know. As ABC’s report shows, people with more friends they do not personally know tend to feel more strongly that they are less happy than their friends. On average, having 354 friends is the turning point at which people become increasingly unhappy with their lives, according to Denny Watkins.

Teachers Know You Are Using Facebook in Class

USA Today says in an article that students using Facebook during a lecture tend to do worse academically. In a study, 53% of professors said Facebook (and 46% said Twitter) erodes the value of their classes. Furthermore, 58% responded they found students using the website when they were not supposed to.

“Unfriending” Led to Shooting Deaths

According to AP, a father shot and killed a couple in Tennessee who unfriended his daughter. Fortunately, the couple’s baby was found uninjured in its mother’s arms.

These reports reveal that Internet addiction is one of the big issues facing modern society. As a study by the University of Chicago shows, communication tools are fueling Net intoxication, and in some cases it “may be harder to resist than cigarettes and alcohol.”

According to Peter Diamandis, by 2020 three billion more people will get connected to the Internet. Net technologies, including Facebook, have been and will be dramatically increasing the possibilities of collaborative innovation among people. On the other hand, as Alicia Eler points out, “Social networks are both a space of freedom and a place of imprisonment.” It is time to stand back from the social media boom and look at it calmly.

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Lady “Kaga”: The Power of Association

As my NYU classmate in the PR program, Nadia Mostafa, mentioned in her blog post, creating a context that ties a small local organization with existing centers of media attention is one of the most effective and successful strategies for PR campaigns.

A similar PR practice can be seen in my country, Japan. One of the visible examples is the “Lady Kaga” (not “Gaga”) campaign. Kaga is a small town in western Japan famous for onsen (hot springs). To reenergize the tourism business hammered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the town launched a promotional campaign capitalizing on the similarity of the town’s name (Kaga) to the name of the American celebrity (Gaga) last fall. Ryokan (Japanese traditional inns) distribute posters, update their Facebook pages, and post promotional videos on YouTube that feature Kaga ryokan staff members, including geisha dancing to the music of Lady Gaga.

Since the launch of the campaign, Kaga has been covered in many news outlets. As of February 24, 2012, the videos have been viewed about 400,000 times. The small local town is full of tourists. To sustain the campaign, the Lady Kaga women wrote a letter to Lady Gaga inviting her to the beautiful hot springs. “Have a rest from your very busy daily life,” they wrote to the Japanophile pop star.

Lady Gaga has been very popular in Japan, especially since March 11. She raised money for Japanese relief efforts as well as donated millions of dollars personally.  In addition, she came to Japan last June for benefit concerts for the victims while many stars cancelled their visits. Japan is safe. The top singer helped spread the message around the world.

Since the earthquakes and tsunamis, the number of foreigners visiting Japan has decreased. Positive publicity is crucial to lure visitors back.

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March 11, 2011: We Found the Power of Social Media (Part 1)

(C) calgaryherald

Social media has dramatically changed the landscape of our communication. But the new communication tools allow for something more: the possibility to save our lives.

At 14:46 on March 11th, 2011, I was working on the sixth floor of a building in Tokyo. The quake struck the building without warning. I thought I would die, because I had not experienced such a huge quake before. I picked up my mobile phone and tried to call my wife. But I could not get through to her. The phone networks were down.

Some people around me began communicating on Twitter and Facebook. The Internet was relatively unaffected, so they were able to use data services and text. These communication venues helped them connect with their families and friends unsure of their whereabouts, and let their loved ones know they were okay. At this moment, I found the immense power of these communication tools: social media saves people.

This blog post is about the implication of social media I saw during the crisis. Especially, I will focus on four tools: Twitter, Facebook, Google, and YouTube.

Twitter

Twitter was one of the most valuable methods for us, the people in Japan, to connect with our families and friends. Within one hour after the quake, the number of tweets from Tokyo topped 1,200 per minute, according to Tweet-o-Meter (also, the site shows the current number of tweets from your area). For users in Japan, Twitter posted a guide in Japanese and English to help us communicate with our loved ones. The guide also included earthquake-related hashtags to lead us to special sections where we could get updated information on the crisis. Additionally, one of the most used hashtags globally in the first half of 2011 was #prayforjapan.

The number of Tweets from Tokyo on March 11th, 2011. (C) Tweet-o-Meter

Facebook

Facebook also played a vital role in connecting people. Before March 11th, Facebook was suffering from flagging adoption in Japan, because Japanese people were allegedly reluctant to use their real names online. However, since March 11th, Japanese Facebook visitors have been dramatically increasing. According to NetRatings Japan Inc., the research firm affiliated with the Nielsen Company, the number of visitors per month surged up to 10.83 million in August 2011, from 1.93 million in August 2010. This is because we have found the benefits of real names during the crisis. Real names helped us identify our families and friends. If we had used pseudonym, we could not have found and communicated with each other. This experience has shown us the huge advantages of real names. You can read stories about how the platform saved us on the Facebook stories page. Also, Facebook provided its visitors with digital ways to donate to victims such as facebook.com/redcross.

(I will continue this topic after my next post)

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