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Shaky rumours press buttons in twittersphere

Jul 4th, 2012 | By | Category: Latest News, News


Kristen Paterson and Laura MacDonald

THE twittersphere was awash with confusion in the immediate aftermath of the magnitude 6.5 earthquake 60kms south-west of Opunake at 10.36pm that was felt strongly across New Zealand.

With New Zealand’s news source crashing within minutes of the quake, people from NZ and around the world desperate for information on the severity of the quake turned to social networking site Twitter.

Geonet, New Zealand’s geological hazard monitoring system, quickly tweeted the quake as a magnitude 6.5, soon revised to a magnitude 7.

However, people looking for official information on evacuation, potential tsunami threats and damage were left in the dark by official sources.

Twitter users looking to the Wellington Region Emergency Management Office (WREMO) twitter feed found their last tweet was a test alert on May 26.

Users vented their frustration with this lack of activity. @lyallbaynz, situated within the Wellington tsunami zone, tweeted “thought WREMO account would be very active tonight, been nothing as far as ive seen.”

Within the hour the New Zealand Herald, Dominion Post and other news sources started tweeting that “Wellington Emergency Management Office advises there is no tsunami warning following this evening’s quake,” linking to the Wellington Emergency Management Office’s Facebook page.

WREMO used its Facebook page to inform the public that it did use its Twitter feed unless the situation is serious. However it did not have a link to its Facebook page from Twitter.

Its message read:

“If you are wondering, we only use our Twitter account as an EMERGENCY TEXT ALERT service (not as social media). Most people are signed up with their cell phones and as a result, we ONLY Tweet when it is a life threatening emergency and you could benefit from a quick heads up. Since this was not life threatening, we did not send an alert. Follow the instructions & sign up for free. – Dan”

Dr Sea Rotmann replied to The Dominion Post Twitter update with “why did they (WREMO) not use their #twitter account to tell us that 40mins ago? That’s why #SocialMedia is useful – instant network.”

User Hamish McConnochie felt “(it) would’ve been helpful for a “no tsunami threat” tweet to have been sent out”.

Other users echoed this sentiment as the reported size of the quake left them unsure that the lack of warnings meant there was no threat, or had caused such widespread damage as to inhibit communication.

To add to peoples’ frustration, Twitter was also filled with inaccurate rumours.

@BreakingNZ reported an update using the earthquake New Zealand hashtag #EQNZ saying “Mt. Ruapehu and White Island have been raised to Alert Level One, showing signs of volcanic unrest.”

But Emergency Response Management NZ clarified with “Mt. Ruapehu and White Island are on Alert level 1, which they have always been on. There is no increased alert. Please RT (retweet) #EQNZ.”

They reported little other information other than the size of the quake.

Within an hour news of the quake had travelled around the world, with #New Zealand, #Wellington and #EQNZ trending worldwide on Twitter.



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