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Economy & Tech

EDITORIAL | Purge Social Media of False Information on Earthquake Rescue

Operations to rescue victims are ongoing in the devastated areas. The dissemination of false information that toys with other people's lives is unforgivable.

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Rescue workers search the devastated area for survivors on January 2. (© Sankei)

In the wake of the devastating Noto Peninsula earthquake, malicious false information has been circulating on social media sites, such as X (formerly Twitter). 

There have been several fake posts saying things like "I am unable to move" that plead for help. Some individuals have even falsely claimed to be disaster victims to solicit donations. 

Rescue operations to locate the missing are ongoing in the disaster zone. Spreading false and malicious information cannot be allowed as it threatens the rescue operations. Both the central and local governments should raise awareness and strengthen countermeasures to deal with the problem.  The police too should crack down on such criminal conduct. 

Confirmed: people posing as disaster victims and fraudulently soliciting aid money have been posting on social media. Yahoo Japan is now accepting "emergency relief donations." Anyone wishing to contribute to disaster relief should to use reliable channels like this.

Not the First Time

Among the malicious information being spread on social media are cries for help. For example, "I am pinned down and cannot move." They are purportedly sent from a fictitious address. 

In other cases, hoaxers have sought to stoke anxiety by uploading videos of the mammoth tsunami that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake (of March 2011). Then they warned people in the Noto disaster zone to "Run for your lives." 

Posts have also been confirmed with two-dimensional (2D) barcodes attached, which seek to solicit donations in the form of electronic money. 

The bulk of information available on social media is correct and can assist in searches for missing persons and rescue operations. However, if it becomes infected by even some false information, chaos will be the inevitable result. Not only should such false reports not be posted, but they should not be easily shared and spread by social media. 

In the past as well, malicious rumors had been spread during disasters. During the 2016 Kumamoto earthquake, a man was arrested on suspicion of obstructing business through fraud. He had posted the message, "A lion has escaped from the zoo." 

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Likewise, there were false rumors spread during the western Japan floods from torrential rainstorms in 2018. For example, rumors that "there are thieves dressed like rescue workers and Self-Defense Forces," spread on social media. That caused local governments to be inundated with inquiries. 

Kumamoto Gakuen University students patrolled for false information on the internet in 2016, the year of the Kumamoto earthquake. May 12, 2016. (© Sankei by Kohei Inoue)

Harm from Misinformation

Some of the false information now being spread is designed to hinder rescue efforts. It is therefore extremely pernicious. The Japanese government is also taking the situation seriously. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stressed at his January 4 press conference that "false information will never be tolerated." 

Social media users must remain vigilant so as not to be deceived by false information. Instead of just accepting everything posted on social media sites at face value, they should calmly determine whether it is true or not by comparing it with information from newspapers, television, and public institutions. 

Many people in the affected areas are now forced to live in shelters or under other inconvenient conditions. Aftershocks are also continuing intermittently, leaving people on edge. 

False information that increases this anxiety should be purged as soon as possible. Dissemination of false rumors that toy with other people's lives is unforgivable. 

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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