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News of Twitter’s role in China earthquake coverage picks up steam

Guardian Twitter Earthquake blogMark Tran at the Guardian Unlimited’s newsblog notes a drastic change between the Chinese government’s official reaction to today’s 7.9 magnitude earthquake and similar events in the past, seeming to suggest that their response is related to the uncontrollable scope of the Internet. After all, how could officials keep a lid on an incident that within seconds of happening was already covered on Twitter and in blogs like Shanghaiist?

Amazingly, we even found our own post on the earthquake mentioned in Mark’s piece: the brief observations Kevin blogged about last night (and shortly thereafter put up on Twitter) had by this morning been picked up by an internationally renowned news source and cited as yet another angle of the story.

But did word of the quake actually break on Twitter, before the major news media were able to pick up on it? Malcolm Moore at The Telegraph seems to think so (despite being from a professional news source, he doesn’t hesitate to give Twitter credit for its role in the disaster response). Malcolm’s story also echoes the sentiments of many in the blogosphere this morning, and notes the unexpected significance of this seemingly simple tool in a time of widespread confusion and panic:

The news of the Sichuan earthquake apparently broke first on Twitter.com, a website whose users constantly update the world on what is happening around them.

Links to maps showing the epicentre of the quake were posted alongside accounts of shaking buildings and evacuated offices from Chengdu, Shanghai and Beijing.

“Breathing normal again, feeling an earthquake on the 31st floor was not fun,” wrote Ana from Shanghai.

Ana’s Twitter page, like so many others, continues to provide her take on the earthquake and micro-conversations with other users. It seems likely that in any Chinese city where there’s an Internet connection this evening, someone’s tapped in and sharing their perspectives with listeners around the world.

To some, it may seem downright absurd: web users armed with nothing more than their eyes, ears and 140 characters of empty space. But that’s exactly what happened this morning…and it seems likely that next time a newsworthy world event strikes, all eyes will be on Twitter.

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