Notes from an earthquake

Published: June 23rd, 2010
Okay, everybody back to your desks.
It was fascinating this afternoon to watch how our earthquake played out on Twitter. After the first shaking in our Scarborough office, the first reaction was to run around asking people who don't know better than you, “What the hell was that?” Second impulse was to switch to Tweetdesk and ask: “Did we just have an earthquake, T.O.?”
People were already asking, and answering, that question within seconds. And an interesting pattern played out.
The first hashtags I saw referred to #earthquakeTO. Toronto claimed the earthquake. As someone noted later in the afternoon: If the earthquake was centred in southwest Quebec, why is it a Toronto earthquake?
Much as you may hate to believe it, it's not just because Toronto believes it's the centre of the universe. My theory: A larger Twitter population than Ottawa (much nearer the epicentre) was reporting it. Toronot tweeps are also on high alert because of the impending G20 conference in the downtown and associated security and risks; the possibility it could have been an explosion would have prompted a twitchier reaction.
When the tremor was felt in the midwest U.S. and Eastern seaboard — as far away as Cleveland and Baltimore — members of the Twitterverse were claiming it as their own local earthquake, until they saw the tweets from Toronto. Then, it became “the Toronto earthquake.” Why not Ottawa? Simple numbers. With more of the Twitterverse in Toronto, Americans were more likely to be following someone in Toronto.
Toronto tweeps were quick to note, when reports of much more violent tremors were appearing from the Ottawa area, that it wasn't #earthquakeTO, but #earthquake, that should be the hashtag to follow. It was now uncertain where the quake was centred, but it surely wasn't Toronto.
But once it was established that the epicentre was nearer Ottawa, why didn't the hashtag become #earthquakeottawa or #earthquakequebec? Two reasons: the accumulated content at #earthquake, adn — possibly — they're too long to be usable as hashtags.
All theory, of course. Comment if you think I'm off the mark.

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