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Twittering the China Earthquake May 14, 2008

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Convergence, Journalism, News, Social Media, Trends, YouTube.
Tags: , , , ,

Devotees of the micro-messaging service Twitter watched the news unfold before their eyes as a 7.8 magnitude struck Sichuan province in China at 2:28 pm (0628 GMT) on Monday. The “Twitterati” got the news even before networks like Singapore-based Channel NewsAsia, CNN, MSNBC, BBC or the earthquake tracking US Geological Survey had the information.

This is a major disaster the horror of which is only just unfolding. While mainstream media scrambled to put up their “breaking news” headlines of the deadly catastrophe which has killed well over 20,000 people, Twitter had pictures, maps, videos all being sent in real-time. Here’s a glance at Twitter search site SUMMIZE and real-time results for “earthquake”

Micro-blogging outshone mainstream news as the earth shook with tragic consequences because people who felt the quake in China used their mobile phones to dash out “twitter” text messages as events unfolded, via the service provided by San Francisco-based Twitter Inc.

While it is stretching the imagination to suggest that the “Twitterati” knew of the earthquake before the US Geological Survey, Twitter reportedly became a source of information for major news organisations covering the earthquake. Twitterers became a bridge between the Chengdu-based Twitterati and mainstream media:

CNN’s John Vause in Beijing: 900 school children in Sichuan buried; 3000 troops and helicopters, Wen Jiabao on their way. ANDREW LIH (fuzheado)

BBC says 100 confirmed dead and rising. MICHAEL DARRAGH (michaeldarragh)

Here are more Twitter posts:

Slightly dizzy after being shaken around by the Chengdu earthquake for several hours now. CASPERODJ

At home in fact, cooking dinner and getting on with things. Just had another aftershock though.

Twitters are abbreviated text messages that can be instantly posted on online bulletin boards and personal websites and sent to the mobiles of selected friends. They were at the forefront of a gush of quake pictures and video swiftly posted online via Yahoo’s Flickr, Google’s YouTube.

Here’s how information spreads like wildfire on Twitter. First responder Robert Scoble a blogger, who was on the news into the early hours of the morning, was transferring news from the more than 21,180 people he follows to the 23,200 people following him. In turn, many of those folks would re-tweet (the term used to describe a message being re-sent out) the news to their followers.

Twitter was launched in March 2006 to let people share their every move with friends every moment of the day. Twitter users get a maximum of 140 characters a message. Ironically Twitter designer Biz Stone envisioned its potential as a communication tool by a ‘tweet’ warning he received about a California earthquake while about to board a train last year.



1. Daily Tech: 15 May 2008 « The Singapore Daily - May 15, 2008

[…] SG Tech – Webs@Work: Twittering the China Earthquake […]

2. Glimpse into China's Sichuan Earthquake: Photos and Illustrations | Planet Surfer - June 4, 2008

[…] apparently played a notable role during the earthquake that provided the world instant updates about the quake from China. Twitter […]

3. shedali » Blog Archive » Digital Town Mouse - June 13, 2008

[…] reporting by first hand witnesses. For example, Twitter users were aware of the chinese earthquake faster than any major news outlet. Similarly, I receive real time news on the move from news agencies such as the guardian, from […]

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