Earthquake: Canadians Turn to Social Media Instead of Diving for Cover

Yesterday afternoon at 1:41pm EDT, a 5.0 magnitude earthquake shook Quebec and Ontario and it looks like people ran to Twitter instead of diving for cover. Once again, social media beat traditional media to the punch (as if this is news nowadays), although mainstream outlets were quick to report the news shortly thereafter.

We did a little research on social media activity regarding the earthquake using Radian6. Some interesting stats:

  • Prior to the earthquake, there were approximately 100-300 mentions of earthquakes on social networks per hour.
  • There were over 31,000 mentions of earthquakes between 1 and 2pm today. That number doubled to almost 65,000 mentions in the hour following the earthquake (between 2 and 3pm).
  • There have been roughly 170,000 mentions of the earthquake since the earthquake began.
  • The first tweet was posted just seconds after the earthquake began at 1:41:41 EST.
  • Users generally decided to tweet the news rather than update their Facebook statuses. While many Facebook updates are private, publicly available updates were outnumbered by tweets by about 8 to 1.

While a majority of the tweets and updates were tinged with surprise, it’s nice to know people hadn’t lost their sense of humour. A few of the funnier posts on Twitter included:

  • “The earthquake triggered a tsunami at the G20 fake lake” – @AndrewFstewart
  • “The earthquake in Toronto was just thousands of England fans jumping back on the bandwagon” – @mlse
  • “That wasn’t an earthquake. It was just Quebec trying to separate.” – @stevepayne
  • “Widespread disappointment across Toronto at news that it was not, in fact, the epicentre of the quake” – @ivortossell
  • “So #earthquakes actually improve the TTC. Go figure. RT @680News: TTC fully operational.” – @josephdee

Erin Bury has a great post on some other funny tweets over at BlogTO.

This is another example of the power of social media in providing up-to-the second news in a way that would have been unimaginable a few years ago.

Update: Interesting post from Joe Boughner on whether it really matters that social media beat the mainstream media to the punch. My take: I like Joe’s points, and Twitter certainly plays a different role to mainstream journalism – it’s not about substantial coverage in the same way. However, in a world where traffic (and ad dollars) flows to the first piece of substantial coverage on the event, being first does matter.

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  • Seconds after the earth shook (and our classroom rattled like crazy) we had Twitter online and not only did we confirm that it wasn’t a big truck rumbling by, but also were able to watch real-time reaction come in from across Ontario and Quebec. From a teaching perspective, it was a dramatic lesson in how Twitter has become the go-to source for breaking news.

  • I was doing an online demo, which I later tweeted about, excusing the awkward pause when the shake and wobble of the quake took place.

    To your point about the power of social media, when I was doing the demo, I was careful about not seeming alarmist by claiming what it was that was happening (even though my monitor on my desk was shaking). After the demo, I pulled up my Twitter timeline and noticed the #earthquake topic trending.

    A few minutes later, the gent tweeted back confirming that the tremor was an earthquake. Very likely his check happened on Twitter as well because CNN and/or local news hadn’t started reporting on it until sometime after 2PM. How does mainstream news compete with up to the second, real-time, news sharing from citizen journalists, infatuated with connecting, whether that motivation exists for entrepreneurial pursuits or catching the next World Cup match?

    Joseph
    @RepuTrack

    • J – further to your lovely rhetoric..it’s no longer a matter of mainstream news ‘competing’, it’s really more to do with mainstream news *evolving* with the new order, the democratized landscape of new media, the web, the cloud (call it whatever environment you want)..moreover, i doubt the often sensationalized, alarmist, hype-coloured elements of social media broadcasting may never go away, after all the elements of novelty, discovery etc. are what make the real-time experience even more impactful..it would be nice to start getting more visibility to authoritative (ie in the sense that info/data are near-accurate) analysis experts on the web cite or officially recommend proven curators to help guide newbies to truly productive and collaborative modes of online behaviour or, at best, by virtue of effective curation, indirectly sustain the steady movement of the social media revolution itself

      always great to piggy back off your comments 😉 ttys – a

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  • Look at all the social media linking to traditional television media using the video of other events which inadvertently captured the quake. And inadvertently captured lots of journos ducking for cover.

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  • This is a clear example of how powerful social media has now become, with platforms like Twitter becoming faster at delivering news than the mainstream media. The fact that current events were being tweeted about literally seconds after the event is something quite amazing.

    I think it is still worth putting this into perspective, as although social media is now instant this doesn’t account for quality. However I can see the mainstream media using Twitter to gather information on events as they happen, but like a lot of internet content this needs administering and checking for authenticity.

    The instant reporting of Twitter makes it one of the most powerful social media platforms on the net, but I wonder if there will be something to challenge it soon, as the field seems to move so fast.

  • I think the “traditional media” outlets did a great job, especially CTV Toronto. Yes, they were using social media (their Twitter stream was brilliant, with updates, resident stories, RT’s, saftey issues, etc), but they were still coming from a “traditional outlet”.

    And think about something like an earthquake. Depending on severity, power lines are affected and come come down altogether. Not much chance to report if broadcast networks down – much easier to use a smartphone.

    And getting the facts right after the details have become clear is much more factual than suppositions on social media.

    I love social media to bits, Dave, as you know. But sometimes it doesn’t do have the job that traditional media does, and we need to keep that in mind.

    • And I should hire an editor to check for blog comment typos… 😉

  • Who says social media can’t save lives? Social media may be the safest and most effective way to tell the world you are pinned under a building or stuck in an attic. Smooth move by the Canadians.

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  • I ‘m really not surprised that social media was the first to report the earthquake. It is much more quicker to access and spread the word online then it is through the more traditional forms of news distribution. However, the posts on twitter and facebook are more about the event as its happening and getting the word out. Whereas, other forms of news distribution find out the facts and give us a more detailed happening of the event. We rarely get these details via twitter. We may have found out that the earthquake happened but did we receive information about if people were hurt or any wreckage? This I am not sure about but from the example’s shown I cannot see and example’s of the information which is provided by the news.

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