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Finally a Legit Use for Twitter: Tracking Earthquakes Faster Than Sophisticated Technology

Updated: Feb 10, 2019

Have you ever tried explaining twitter to someone? Unless you carefully craft your explanation, you sound ridiculous - it sounds ridiculous. We know it's a way of spreading info quickly, but with all the noise, it can be difficult to really pinpoint an awesome use of the social media platform. Well now, thanks to science and a healthy fear of earthquakes, we may have found one.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the government agency officially in charge of tracking earthquakes, has teamed up with Twitter to identify major earthquakes, apparently at a rate quicker than the agency's detection equipment.

USGS got the idea for the partnership when it discovered that social media posts identified a 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, China quicker than its 2,000 sensors. Since Twitter is confusing and full of random thoughts, absurdities and chaotic amounts of hashtags, scientists had to find a way to filter through the nonsense to make the data actually useful.

After conducting research on existing data, scientists discovered that tweets from those who feel a 'quake then tweet about it in real time, are typically seven words or less, and do not contain any links or numbers. I imagine this is due to people tweeting out of immediate concern, and not having time to think of something clever. Fear trumps all.

By filtering out tweets with links, numbers and more than seven words, scientists discovered they could detect earthquakes felt by humans in two minutes or less. When the Napa Valley earthquake happened in 2014, Twitter identified it in 29 seconds. Even though the region's tech savvy population likely contributed to the crazy fast speed, that's still hella impressive.

Researchers are also using Twitter to determine when and if their equipment is providing a false report. It's crazy to think that we live in a world where social media is faster at reporting than sensors and equipment.

So, if an earthquake happens but no one tweets about it, did it really even happen?


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