Thursday, April 12, 2012

The power of Twitter

We have a presence on Twitter. We're not one of the NZ Herald's 50 Top Tweeters, nor do we aspire to be. But what we really find great about Twitter is its immediacy.

Last night's earthquake off the coast of Aceh in Indonesia was a great example. We saw an alert from Reuters just moments after the quake, and within minutes the Twittersphere quite literally exploded. The New Zealand TV stations were the fastest to react; TVNZ had an alert on Twitter very soon after, followed closely by TV3. Stuff was the first of the newspaper websites to respond, but poor old Granny Herald must have been slumbering; they had no mention of the 'quake and Indian Ocean-wide tsunami alert for more than half an hour.

Naturally enought, thoughts turned quickly to Boxing Day 2004, and the devastating tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean killing close to a quarter of a million people. Fortunately, those fears were not realised; a small tsunami came ashore, but no damage resulted. That's because we soon learned (via a link from Twitter) that this 'quake was a strike-slip where the earth moved horizontally rather than a thrust quake such as the 2004 one and last year's Japanese earthquake. We leaned that it is thrust quakes, upward motions of the earth below the sea that cause water to be displaced and tsunami to occur. So Twitter is even educational too!

 And it was via Twitter that we heard about the Japanese earthquake last year. Once again, the Twittersphere erupted, and given the time of day that the disaster unfolded, we watched it live from our living room in prime time. That may sound bizarre, and it was; natural disasters aren't our preference for prime-time viewing, but the news images that were coming in live from Japan had us transfixed, as it did for millions around the world.

We are hugely relieved that there was no replay of 2004 and 2011 last night. But thanks to Twitter, forewarned was forearmed, and the flow of news certainly gave people in the areas that might have been affected a great heads-up to take precautions. It's probably an unintended consequence of social media, but it's a useful one nonetheless.

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