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When News Becomes the Cause: Twitter and the LA Shake

By Tom Watson on July 31, 2008No Comment

One of the chapters in CauseWired is about instant organizing campaigns, or “flash causes,” as I’ve called them. The biggest story in that chapter covers the wildfires in southern California last year and the work of blogger Nate Ritter in spreading good information in a time of public uncertainty and no small amount of panic. Tuesday’s earthquake near Los Angeles was another reminder of how media technology and social networks can fill the gaps in traditional media, and actually help people by spreading reliable information. Blogger MG Siegler said it well at VentureBeat:

When natural disasters strike, people want news ASAP. Twitter is simply very fast at disseminating information. We saw this when a large 7.8 earthquake struck China back in May and we’re seeing it again today. Today, it was especially true when used in conjunction with the social conversation and aggregation site FriendFeed. Minutes after the quake, I had various accounts of it and maps of its epicenter.

Professional news operations can move quickly; but semi-pro’s and amateurs are faster, and they’re using the tools of the whole network. The challenge, I think, is getting that information beyond the cadre of super-wired, always-on, early adopters and out to millions of not-so-techie folks during an emergency. Still, you can’t argue with the speed. From a post by Biz Stone on the Twitter blog, check out this chart showing the surge in quake-related posts on Tuesday:

Clearly, Twitter users were ahead of the local TV stations in getting the word out: news spiked at the one-minute mark, post-rumble. Wrote Stone: “Twitter is increasingly being described as a personal news-wire—shared world events like this morning’s earthquake near Los Angeles support the definition.”

More coverage:

Los Angeles earthquake chokes phone calls, not Twitter

Stop Trusting the Internet! [ie, beware of fakes]

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