Twitter, Facebook light up after East Coast quake

People turn to social networks as earthquake jolts D.C area, New York, New England

Just moments after a 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit the East Coast on Tuesday afternoon, Twitter and Facebook lit up with the news.

The quake struck central Virginia at 1:51 p.m. Eastern time today and rocked the Washington area, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The quake was felt as far away as 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

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 Barbara Krasnoff.

And someone identified as zephoria 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. bit.ly/q8PdlX #quake"

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

However, today's flash tweeting and Facebook postings are a reminder of what an intrinsic part of our lives the sites have become, said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at 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."

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 email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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