Twitter sees earth-shaking activity during SoCal quake


This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

It has become almost cliché to say that Twitter users break news of natural disasters the minute they happen. But what about the minute before?

By most major media accounts, including the Associated Press and the LA Times, the 5.4-magnitude earthquake yesterday in Southern California happened at 11:42 a.m. But the first half-dozen tweets announcing the rumbling actually came in a minute earlier, according to Twitter’s API data.


The man credited with breaking the news: Nicholas Hawkins, who wrote: ‘holy **** earthquake in so cal’ (with the asterisks representing an unprintable yet understandable reaction to a temblor). The silver medal goes to Victor Hernandez, who was 18 seconds too late. Our findings even contradict that of Twitter itself, which listed the first quake-related message at 11:42 on its blog. Though it’s possible that the minute discrepancy could be a server timing error, Twitter did not immediately respond to an email for comment.

Within the first hour, Twitter users seemed to cover...

every major angle of the quake. Coffeejunkie79 sounded off on the mobile mix up: ‘my cellphone won’t connect since the earthquake.’ And David Accampo highlighted building structural concerns: ‘Guy in office picked great time to tell me that our office building isn’t up to earthquake code.’

The short messaging service became some people’s go-to source for the news. Gstatton wrote, ‘twitter’s crazy like that...found out about the earthquake in SoCal 1min after it happened.’ Andy Aldridge took a jab at major media, saying, ‘Once again, Twitter scoops big news media. This time it was the LA earthquake. Time to go check Flickr for first hand look at the damage.’

Perhaps the biggest news, some said, was not the earthquake itself, but that Twitter managed to keep its servers running during the 6,736 first-hour ‘earthquake’ tweets. Twitter users have become all too familiar with seeing the notorious whale image, signifying a ‘service down’ error, so the fact that the site withstood the elements -- during which experienced a brief outage from its traffic surge -- was a surprise.

For a more in-depth look at the earth-rattling Twitter activity, check out our coverage yesterday including a live feed of messages containing ‘earthquake.’ We also have an interactive time line showing the first 12 hours of quake tweets (below). Scroll over the graph to see messages, and drag the sliders at the bottom to scale the time line.

-- Mark Milian

flash 9 required

Twitter visualizer by Sean Connelley / Los Angeles Times