About 75% of my Facebook Newsfeed come from friends who live on the East Coast so of course I first learned of the earthquake today via social media. I found some of their posts fascinating, including the following that I informally curated off my newsfeed:
New Hampshire: “is not sure it’s a good thing that I was completely unfazed by the EQ. Perhaps I am not to be trusted with protecting myself…”
Pennsylvania: ” hmmm, earthquake on the first day of teaching. Good sign/bad sign?”
West Virginia: ” 6.0 Earthquake just a few miles from us. That was Weird! Shaky, Shaky!”
Boston: “No f’ing way: I felt my building ripple an hour ago (the floor felt fluid, the leaves on the plants shook) . . . and now I discover that it must have been the distant reach of AN EARTHQUAKE!!”
Wisconsin: “…meanwhile, the nation’s geologists are saying, “We finally have an excuse to write papers about social media! Someone start writing a grant!'”
And this one from my Wisconsin friend (and she’s not even a social-media academic geek):
“Am I the only one who gets major news from here? Thanks to FB, I heard about the earthquake, and many many other breaking stories… See, this is not just a waste of time!”
The conversations under the status updates reflected much of the dialogue happening all over the country:
Friend in DC area/Virginia: “Lucky us…driving home from a morning at the spraygrounds & didn’t even feel the earth move…or rather thought it was the asphalt truck next to us! Don’t have phones…either house or cell! 🙂 What a day!”
Her Neighbor: “I can’t believe you didnt feel it. Our houses were all shaking in the neighborhood and stuff falling off shelves.Friend: “thought it was the construction next to us! kinda glad I wasn’t home!Neighbor: “It did, at first, sound like garbage man. I was thinking “why is he back already..its not thursday!”Friend: “wow…going to be interesting to see if we have any aftershocks. hoping not!”
Curating all of this according to geography and I knew even before I read the Wall Street Journal article or checked my Twitter feed that it was a strong enough earthquake to tremble up and down the east coast, and that it interrupted people’s ordinary days. Many linked off their status updates to the latest CNN or Post breaking news article. I traveled all over the news media landscape primarily going back and forth from my Facebook feed.We learn people’s reactions, their excitement, their fears and much of it is contextualized based on the ensuring dialogue. Well let me be clear: We learn our friends’ reactions, excitement and fears.
Yet this does seem to indicate that my findings from the giant audience study we just completed last winter resonate. In that study (to be published in Journalism and Communication Monographs this fall), our participants told us they often ignored the homepages of their favorite news outlets in favor of links that were shared by their friends and co-workers. Social media served as the entry point (and exit point) of news consumption. This was in contrast to how editors were trying to channel traffic, or at least what some editors told me.
And still, though several in my social circle crowed about the power of social media to relay that particular news today, here I am watching Rachel Maddow and other news shows to find out what/how/why it happened or its implications for things like aging nuclear power plants. Didn’t get that info from Facebook.Got that info from journalists.