You may have seen a picture circulating on the Internet recently. The message of the picture is pretty important: Why do we care about trivial things like the Miley Cyrus scandal when the situation in Fukushima is going critical?
The Fukushima Disaster is one of the most horrifying events in our recent history. A category 3 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, the meltdown which started in 2011 when a massive tsunami flooded the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has been sending waves of radiation across the Pacific Ocean.
As the tide of radiation flies across the Pacific, children melt in their mothers’ arms in Hawaii, several hundred people drop dead in Los Angeles, a man in Arizona wakes up to discover to his horrific, paralyzing despair that he is perfectly fine. Everyone in L.A. and Hawaii is perfectly fine too, and the public has once again been the victim of fear-mongering on the Internet.
In fact, this is nowhere near the first time social media has led to the rapid proliferation of misinformation and panic. At least 3,430 people have petitioned the White House to address this issue, which has already been addressed by the Hawaiian Department of Health as a “non-issue.” In fact, the map that has captured the zeitgeist with this disaster is, according to recently retired USGS-FEMA Liaison and Geographer Michael Lee, “definitely seismological data that has nothing to do with radiation.” Indeed, the NOAA, whose logo is plastered upon the image, has repeatedly said that the map was measuring wave height data from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. Waves of water.
This isn’t the first time this hoax has spread, either. It was two years ago, around the same time, that similar reports came in of a wave of radiation hitting California and radiating crops along America’s western seaboard. Radiation is, of course, hitting America from Japan, but the radiation is coming at about the same rate that radiation from Japan has always hit America. A person will gather more radiation from a friend over the course of the day than they will ever collect from this event.
It’s true that it is a category 3 on the INRES, but the Three-Mile Island incident was a category 5 and led to a grand death toll of zero. Mind you, this is two years after the problems with the plant started, and there has been an evacuation zone 8 miles wider than Three-Mile Island’s for quite some time now, and a much more ready response.
I am not against activism, and indeed there are many good arguments against the proliferation of nuclear power. The danger inherent in nuclear power is a call for major nuclear reform, even if it isn’t killing thousands right now, and Japan of all countries has a reason to hate the nuclear age, as anti-nuclear activist and musician Susumu Hirasawa points out in his song “Genshiryoku.”
However, there’s no reason people should be inventing fake news to push an agenda. It’s dishonest to the thousands of people who have seen posts about this event across the social media, and it’s crying wolf. It’s wrong to shame people for caring about “trivial” issues like Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs or the sexism present in “Blurred Lines” when there are huge disasters that aren’t happening.
What is happening instead is that a lot of people are panicking and making discussion of the nuclear debate muddier and even harder to navigate. There’s no need for a bunch of misinformed people to rise up indignantly and demand something be done about nothing. For now, it would be better to take Lee’s advice: “Go back to bed, and stop sending me emails at 4 a.m.”