News of earthquake travels faster on Twitter than shock waves travel through rock

Jordan Chittley
The Right Click

My colleagues and I in the newsroom started seeing tweets Tuesday about an earthquake in the U.S. and then seconds later our Toronto office started shaking.

As it turns out, people on Twitter move news of the quake faster than shock waves rumble through rock.

"I saw the tweets from DC about earthquake, then 15 seconds later felt it in NYC," wrote Jesse Friedman on Twitter. "Social media is faster than seismic waves."

He is clearly not alone because Friedman later tweeted he had more than 100 retweets.

"Weirdest moment: Seeing the people I'm following in DC tweet "earthquake" seconds before I felt it here in NYC," tweeted Allison Kilkenny.

The magnitude 5.8 quake that struck in Virginia was felt all over the eastern part of Canada and the U.S. and nearly broke records on Twitter.

"Within a minute of today's #earthquake, there were more than 40,000 earthquake-related Tweets," the company wrote after the event. "And, we hit about 5,500 Tweets per second (TPS). For context, this TPS is more than Osama bin Laden's death & on par w/ the Japanese quake."

Shock waves travel at a speed of about two to eight kilometres per second. The epicentre of the quake is about 800 km from Toronto, meaning even if the waves travelled at their fastest rate, it would still take one-minute and 40 seconds for people in Canada's largest city to feel anything. People in Washington would feel it a little less than a minute before people in New York City.

Twitter also commented on the speed writing: "We can't speak to the speed of seismic waves, but a tweet can reach your followers in less than a second."