East coast earthquake triggers social media groundswell

Just moments after a 5.9 magnitude earthquake hit the East Coast on Tuesday afternoon, Twitter and Facebook lit up with the news.

The quake struck central Virginia at 1:53 p.m. EDT today and rocked the Washington area, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The quake was felt as far away as Toronto, Montreal, New Jersey, New York and New England. It also disrupted cell phone service and closed two nuclear reactors, and many bridges and tunnels in East Coast cities

The major wireless carriers had not confirmed the cell phone outages, but many Washington-based Twitter users said they lost cell phone service after the quake struck.

Various news services reported that parts of the Pentagon, the White House and the U.S. Capitol were evacuated as a precaution. The federal building in Newark, N.J., was also evacuated.

But before news could be reported on television or even on online news sites, the reports were lighting up social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook .

People were quick to turn to their favorite social networking sites to report the quake, with many tweeting or posting while the shaking was still going on.

A reporter in Maine read about the quake on Twitter before actually feeling the shock waves reach that far north.

“When I felt the house shake I ran outside to yell at whoever was tramping across my roof. Typical Brooklyn reaction. #earthquake,” tweeted Computerworld feature editor BarbaraKrasnoff.

And zephoria also tweeted, “Gotta love Twitter. The building shakes. Everyone immediately gets on Twitter to confirm that they’re not hallucinating.” While brianstelter, wrote, “Quake was so strong at my family home, 40 min north of D.C., that my mom rushed outside, thinking something had hit the house.”

And CBS News reporter Norah O’Donnell tweeted, “#SecretService rushing people out of WH and into Lafayette Square. Most people calm.”

People have been quick to take to social networking sites after other earthquakes, the tsunami in Japan and even government uprisings.

However, today’s flash tweeting and Facebook postings are a reminder of how intrinsically entwined the sites have become in our lives, noted Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with Yankee Group.

“It again supports the theory that social networks are the fastest way to distribute information. They have become the “send to” of life,” said Kerravala. “It’s become the de facto communication tool for anyone looking to reach all of their contacts because it’s simple, fast and now ubiquitous. I don’t need to put in an address in a “to” field. I just type it and hit enter.”

Washington, at 1:51 p.m.

The USGS said that the Tuesday quake was the largest in Virginia since a magnitude 5.9 hit Giles County in 1897.

CNN also reported that pinnacles fell off the National Cathedral in Washington, but no tourists or other people were injured.

A Computerworld reporter based in Harrisonburg, Va., 60 miles from the epicenter, said the quake felt like a truck or school bus had hit his townhouse building, while a Computerworld editor based in the Washington suburbs of Maryland said he felt his desk shake.

Airport control towers at John F. Kennedy Airport and Newark, N.J. were evacuated along with many government and office buildings in Washington, based on reports from CNN and other sources.

The NYNEX building in New York City was also evacuated, CNBC reported.

A security camera in Parkville, Md., captured the quake and the video was posted on YouTube.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon’s RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld.

Share on LinkedIn Share with Google+