NHK has examined a series of fake rescue requests posted on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, after a massive earthquake that hit central Japan on New Year's Day. The analysis found that many of the requests, which were in Japanese, were posted from overseas.
Many rescue requests emerged from hard-hit Ishikawa Prefecture following the quake, but some of them contained non-existent addresses or were accompanied by unrelated photos.
NHK analyzed 24 accounts that had posted requests for help from the same address in severely hit Suzu City, along with videos of unrelated locations. Twelve of these accounts were traced back to Pakistan and at least nine usually posted in Arabic or Urdu, the national language of Pakistan.
These accounts had posted about Japan almost 3,000 times since October. About 160 of these posts were related to the quake and had a total of over 11 million views. There were also roughly 70 posts concerning the January 2 runway collision at Tokyo's Haneda Airport, with a total of more than 2.5 million views.
One of the users who made a fake rescue request had also posted a YouTube video on how to earn income by reaching a certain number of viewers on X, while another had reported making money from X posts.
Some posts seemed to be targeting earnings by replicating content that was widely circulating in Japan through X.
J.F. Oberlin University Professor Taira Kazuhiro, an expert on fake information, says that acts to contaminate the information space during emergencies or elections for profit pose a risk of destabilizing society. He says there is a need for comprehensive countermeasures.
Pakistan is believed to be one of the countries where much of the fake information was posted. The country is struggling with a severe economic situation marked by high inflation.
It was struck by devastating floods in 2022, which reportedly inundated about one-third of the land. Major industries, including agriculture, were hard-hit.
The country's consumer price index for January rose 28.3 percent from a year before. The International Labour Organization has estimated that the number of unemployed people last year increased by 1.5 million from 2021.
An expert on social media use in the country says more people are turning to social media as a means to earn money.
A 26-year-old civil engineer said he has been posting eye-catching videos for months to generate income. He said many people are using social media as a way to earn money amid a challenging economy and sharply rising gasoline prices. He believes it is a way to supplement his income from work.
The expert says the trend is on the rise especially among young people grappling with job scarcity, and pointed out that some are using foreign information and languages to enhance viewership.