The release of nuclear radiation after the explosion of various reactors at the Fukushima I Power Plant triggered various actions from civil society: it involved scraping and refining data from official data to publish them in structured format (as did the German designer Marian Steinbach or the ad hoc group radmonitor311); other actors decided to use Geiger counters in order to provide alternative radiation readings (such as Safecast); various data feeds were plugged in platforms such as Pachube, triggering various remix of these data; finally, several maps were creating, displaying either official sources (such as the Institute for Information Design Japan), or both, e.g. by using Pachube feeds which aggregated multiple data sources (such as Spurs or Failedrobot). (I have described extensively this process of map making here and in french here).
Are these alternative orscrapped data and radiation mapping mashup occupying a specific position within the online debate about the location and level of nuclear radiation in the post-Fukushima ? Where were these actors located in the online issue-network (Rogers & Marres, 2008) about post-Fukushima radiation? Did they appear as specific data and information provider for other actors involved in the debate?
In order to analyse the position of alternative voices online, it was necessary to first have a big picture of the online debate. What was the geography of the online debate about radiation? The graph below is giving such a big picture: every nodes is a website taking part in the radiation issue, ie. producing, using, debating about the nature, the location and the level of radiation. this graph was constituted by using the Firefox plugin Navicrawler, which crawls the various links amongst websites ; websites are categorized manually after having explored the websites, by reading the content. The result of this exploration is visualised with the software Gephi.
Figure 1. The size of the nodes shows their authority score calculated by using the algorithm Hits from (Kleinberg, 1999). The spatialization algorithm is Force Atlas 2. The color of the edges shows the source of the link.
Categories of actors involved
The graph highlighted the presence of various communities of actors. By reading the graph, a civil society sphere constitutes a cluster on the bottom left side, and is composed as follows:
- Mother and children defence organization, providing information about how to protect this particularly affected population;
- Citizen and neighbours defence group, for whom the debate is usually around local issue such as food consumption and people evacuation;
- Anti-nuclear activists, subgroup of ecological associations calling for stopping every nuclear production;
- Independent bloggers who aggregate various websites and resources and comment the news.
On the other side of the graph (top right) is what can be described as the official sources sphere. They are constituted with:
- The various ministries, with the MEXT as the main hub, which is responsible for radiation monitoring;
- Prefectures, producing local readings or referring to the government;
- Industries, such as TEPCO, the company operating the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant;
- International organizations such as the IAEA;
- Japanese Universities.
In the middle and top left stand the “Geiger sphere”, which includes the various actors who produced Geiger counter data or refined official data ; the mapping mashup sphere is constituted by a selection of 16 maps wich and act as means to visualize the radiation data.
1. Territorial occupations
By looking at the issue topology, the debate appears to be highly polarized between the official actors on the top right side and civil society members on the other side. As the table below shows, official sources have a much higher clustering coefficient than the civil society members: the three most clusterized communities are the three main official sources provider, ie. industries, ministries and prefectures. These websites constitutes tight communities with abundant internal linking.
|Categories||Average clustering coefficient|
|8.||Children and Mother defence group||0,155|
If the debate about radiation online appears to be highly polarized along two opposite poles, it also appears to be dominated by official sources. A ranking analysis was performed by using the Hits algorithm. The two following tables displays the 20 first results of the Hits algorithm, starting from the highest score:
2. Maps in the graph
Let us now have a closer look at the authorities within the selection of maps:
How can one explain such ranking? It is noticeable that maps created by companies are not on the first position, whereas they could supposedly benefit from the high rank of their hosting website: Naver appears on 4th position, and Yahoo and Goo on the 8th and 9th position. Furthermore, by looking at the size of data sets used on maps, those on the top does not have the biggest data sets: other example such as the map from the Japanese institute for information design has got a very extensive data set and is only in 12th position; on the other side, ATMC has got only one source of data (MEXT) and with a poor granularity – it only provides one measurements per Prefecture. Furthermore, it does not appear to be a matter of data: in the top 5 are maps with the three types of sources, ie. only official data, only Geiger data and maps using both. The sole unifying criteria to explain such a ranking is the updating frequency: the 4 maps on the top are providing daily updating on their data, and getting closer to real-time maps. On the other side, the maps with a low updating frequency appear to be at the bottom of the list.
3. Linking practices between spheres of actors
What about the relations between the categories of actors? Looking at the graph, the Geiger sphere actors are represented in yellow and the maps websites in red. They occupy a central place in the graph, between the two sides of the debate. As we saw earlier, in addition to producing original readings, they are also scrapping official data: can they be considered as mediating actors between the civil society and official actors? Are they creating a dialog between them, taking data from one side to bring it to the other? The next figure shows alternatives view of the URL in figure 1:
Figure 2. The top figure contains the whole issue’s URL grouped by categories; the size of nodes depends on the number of websites it contains; the size of the edge show the number of links from one node to the other. The color of the edge shows the source of the link. The three figures below specifically highlight relation amongst group of actors: official sources, civil societies websites and mapmakers sphere. The color designates outcoming links in red, incoming links in blue and reciprocal links in yellow.
- The figure 2 shows a triangle between ministries, prefectures and industries, and in a minor proportion with international organizations: official sources abundantly link to each other, but also exclusively: the do not link to any other websites other than them.
- The civil society members, on graph 3, also show intensive reciprocal linking practices between their spheres, as it is highlighted in yellow; but they also abundantly link to the official sources; they link in a smaller proportion to the Geiger sphere in yellow. Civil society reference for data source does not appear to be alternative or scrapped radiation data, but mostly official sources.
- The mapmaker sphere naturally links to mapping mashup, as they constitute its visualization means; it also links to the official sources to acknowledge the data sources when scraping them, and links in a smaller proportion to the civil society actors. This open linking policy explains why they are occupying a central position within the graph. However, this openness does not appear to be reciprocal: they do not appear to constitute authorities within the debate, capable of competing with the official sources that are occupying the top position within the sphere (cf. the Authorities table). But more importantly, they do not appear to constitute an alternative data provider that civil society members could use in order to contradict official sources statements. These various organizations still mostly to official sources as official data provider: looking simultaneously to these cross-sphere links and to the issue network graph, it appears that civil society members literally step over the mapmaker sphere in order to link to the official data provider; the Geiger sphere therefore remains an autonomous sphere, relatively independent from the two sides of the debate.
The crawling of this issue online was performed in August 2011: as the Web is a very fast-moving environment, the online topology of this issue might most likely be different today ; furthermore, the Fukushima is still a very “hot controversy” as Venturini, (2010) would say, and the Japanese public debate about the Fukushima aftermath is still going on: this graph must then be considered as a snapshot of the online situation at the moment it was realized, not as a definite picture.
However, it is still possible to see that the online debate about post-Fukushima radiations appear to be dominated by official sources, which constitutes dense communities linking exclusively to other official sources; on the other side of the controversy, civil society members also have interlinking practices in order to occupy the web territory. The Geiger data sphere and maps, on the other hand, stay in their specific sphere. There are close relationships between data providers, refiners and mappers: they can even constitute the same entity, as with Safecast. To say it otherwise, data providers are their first “consumers” to create maps, enforcing close-circuit relationship and hyperlinks practices. Furthermore, within the considered websites, these radiation maps did not appear to sustain an “empowerment” process, feeding an alternative position within the controversy and enabling the persons using it to reach a voice loud enough to compete with the official sources, which still has got the biggest voice in the debate.
However, another limitation of this work is that it only takes hyperlinking practice into account, while individuals and groups possess other forms of communicating and publishing information data that does not appear on such graph (e.g. participating in a Google group) ; furthermore, lots of action to spread out different accounts of the post-Fukushima radiation situation is done by offline actions, that would hence need to be studied by doing fieldwork.
PS. I would like to thank Franck Ghitalla and his IC05 students, as well as the Digital Methods Initiative members, especially Richard Rogers, Bernhard Rieder and Erik Borra for their insightful comments throughout this work.
Update 2 (17/03/2012): a shorter version of this blog post was published on the online journal Berliner Gazette as part of their great thema: Fukushima / 11 März; they also organized a very insightful symposium called the Learning form Fukushima in October 2011, where I had the chance to present earlier versions of this graph. Another article was published in the online and print version of the German weekly newspaper der Freitag (15/03/2012 issue), with another visualisation + website list.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.