A 9.0 scale earthquake can move continents, but can’t shatter the human spirit.

As Japan was struck by a massive earthquake on Friday, user-fueled social media platforms heed the call of social obligation to aid rescue operations and an alternative means of communications when mobile phone networks and telephone landlines were down moments after the quake hit.

Among the social platforms, Twitter was very invaluable. The microblogging site was the fastest and easiest way of communicating in order to keep in touch with relatives and providing updates from stricken areas.

Social Media is the New Reliable

Twitter enabled users to send out emergency numbers in to inform Japanese residents based in America on how to contact relatives in Asia. Aside from social media platforms, Skype and Google were also invaluable tools to help people find their loved ones. Google launched a tool called “Person Finder: 2011 Japan Earthquake” which were offered in both English and Japanese websites. The Person Finder had two selection tabs: people seeking information about relatives and people providing information.

On the other hand, Skype was very useful as mobile networks become congested whenever customers try to make a call and text at the same time. As Japanese mobile networks were saturated, NTT DoCoMo limited voice calls up to 80% in Tokyo. Residents of the Japanese capital resorted to Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and Mixi (Japan’s popular social networking site). Moments after the quake struck, Twitter amassed 1,200 tweets per minute which came from Tokyo alone. After 24 hours, 246,075 Twitter posts carrying the term “earthquake” were tweeted.

Facebook chat proved to be useful as well as many Facebook users chatted with relatives during the quake, even under a table! Jill Murphy, a teacher from Liverpool, was chatting with her cousin on Facebook under an office table as the quake was happening. “She was Facebook chatting from under her desk at Yokohama International School, while the quake was going on. It was absolutely amazing. She couldn’t contact her parents a few miles away – the phones were down and the trains had stopped running – but we knew she was OK on the other side of the world. Facebook and Twitter are automatically the first place you now go to find out what is going on.”

Organizations Crowdsource Funds

Aside from the Red Cross, organizations and companies were finding ways to lend a hand to Japan, Charlie Annenberg Weingarten, Director of the Annenberg Foundation and Explore.org founder announced at the SXSW convention center that Explore.org will donate $100,000 to the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation. The catch would be for every “Like” of the “Dog Bless You” Facebook page, Explore.org will donate a dollar up to $100,000.

“Search and rescue dogs are a critical resource for emergency situations” says Weingarten. “There are many bootstrapped start-ups down here in Austin and plenty of people across America who want to help Japan in some way but don’t have the resources; we’re giving those people a chance to support with a simple social action”

Other big companies such as Microsoft and Apple have also pleaded donations with the number of likes their Facebook pages get. While this seems to be a sneaky way of increasing community engagement, it serves as an example of how companies can use social media platforms to garner crowdsourced funds. Nonetheless, social media has been a big help to the global society, from natural calamities such as the recent New Zealand and Japan earthquakes to the recent Egypt uprisings. It only proves that social platforms are mere tools without human spirit fueling it.