Intimate publics and social media during the 3.11 disaster

Sonja Petrovic

PhD candidate, Asia Institute, The University of Melbourne


The 2011 triple disaster, earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown, collectively known as 3.11 disaster, was a turning point for Japanese civil society for myriad reasons. First, in terms of changing media landscape, where due to a lack of much needed information, Japanese citizens embraced social media as an important communication platform. Second, the disaster not only physically reconfigured Japan’s geography, but also citizens’ sense of place and social connection, which has been reconfigured due to emergency evacuation, displacement and temporary housing. The 3.11 disaster is a significant point in time for Japanese civil society because it carries profound implications for social changes and new interactions among individuals. This paper outlines the fundamental role of social media, merely Twitter, as a crisis communication tool, and its role as a new medium for experiencing the sense of community and belonging to a collective in the time of crisis. It explores the evolving potential of social media to create intimate publics and new forms of virtual communities in the context of disaster, by looking at how individual’s sense of intimacy can be available in the most public networks, such as Twitter. This paper is part of my current research which examines the intersections of media usage and individual’s sense of belonging to the local and regional communities in contemporary Japanese society.