The First Few Tweets: Revisiting The Mainshock

It took just 2 minutes for the first tweets about Nepal earthquake to appear on timeline, analysis shows.

By Jagadish Pokhrel
One of the first tweets about Nepal earthquake leaped out of an “empty mind”. On April 25, 2015, just before a quiet Saturday morning was ending, that is, at 11:56 to be precise, a 7.8 magnitude temblor violently shook the central hills for about a minute, shattering the confidence of unassuming people in their power to stay safe inside buildings. In the next two minutes, at 11:59, Twitter handle emptymind (@spoudel121) posted the news.

Nobody seemed to care, perhaps because those who experienced the massive jolt were thinking about their own safety rather than sending tweets. So, what? Emptymind faved his own tweet.

At exactly the same time, 11:59 AM, @Icreation9 tweeted in Nepali, “Oh God, this is a really large earthquake”:

By then several stunned tweeples were appearing on the timeline to create the greatest buzz of our time over the most devastating earthquake since the 1934 temblor that had killed 8,500 Nepali people.

Expert tweets appeared on timeline minutes later. For example:

GDAC Tweets EQ and Nepal

The reaction on Twitter right before and after the quake. Graph clipped from GDACS Twitter server.

Twitter’s advanced search results for “Nepal” and “earthquake” turned up few tweets by Nepal’s journalists minutes after the quake, virtually none by editors of major newspapers, otherwise active on Twitter. Yet, some tweeples weren’t that far behind in sharing the news of this major event. For example: Kunda Dixit, editor of Nepali Times (@KundaDixit) wrote at 12:01 PM:

Perhaps the first tweet by a journalist with a visual of the devastation caused by the quake, and a tweet that was widely shared, came at 12:14 PM from journalist Guna Raj Luitel:

Neil McMahon @neilmcmahon noted that there already were “Lotta tweets about a quake from India and Nepal.” Stephane Prud’homme @stepru shared this reaction with a URL at 12:08 PM: “eeeeee!!!!! 7.0 quake in Nepal……”

Some handles, such as Bryan Herbert @ke6zgp, had the time to grammatically structure their tweets: “Preliminary M7.4 quake just struck Nepal.”

Priya Sahgal @priyascorner added the epicenter information, “7.4 magnitude of quake … epicentre in Nepal.” Aritra Chatterjee @oritro_rockstar sent a note of caution: “Stay Safe guys … tremors all over North and East India.”

Now some handles went beyond taking these tweets for granted: “Right to Dissent @kracktivist @nikkhil_in @mihirssharma”, for example, wrote, “yes the epicentre of quake is Nepal, not india , up bihar bengal north east even in maharashtra.”

Some were quick to post the initial reports! Varaang Ghai @varaang wrote, “Earth Quake 7.4 on Richter scale, epicentre in Nepal: Initial reports.” Then wishes began to flow: Karthick Sridharan @karthick2668 wrote, “Epi Centre of the Earth quake is Nepal…7.4 magnitude..Tremors of afyermath felt in North &NE of India..Wish evryone are safe.”

The depth of the quake was coming to surface as well. Braeden Mayer @braeden_mayer speculated the potential impact of the “7.4 quake in northern India and Nepal at a depth of 33 kilometres. That could be devastating.”

Soon feelings about the time the shaking took to stop began to float around. At 12:14 PM, Alex Ogle @alex_ogle wrote, “7.4 quake hits Nepal, felt across north India, 2 minutes of shaking here in Delhi…”

Institutional handle China Xinhua News @xhnews sent “BREAKING: 7.7-magnitude quake hits 80 km east of Pokhara, Nepal.” Somewhere else, guesswork, or wish-work, rather, was going on. Evil Yindoo @evilyindoo wrote, “Hope the 7.4 Richter scale Earth Quake in Nepal is not true ; Massive devastation if true.”

DeshGujarat @deshgujarat talked about the impact in India: “7.7-magnitude quake hits 80 km east of Pokhara, Nepal, impacts in north India.”

Among the early posts were from some of Nepal’s politicians, active on twitter. For example, 15 minutes after the first major quake, Baburam Bhattarai, tweeted via Facebook:

Finance Minister Dr Ram Sharan Mahat at 12.44 PM:

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s widely circulated tweet appeared on timeline 43 minutes after the first temblor:

A variety of handles were participating in the conversation in the wake of the deadly quake that killed around 9,000 people, injured 20,000 and rendered hundreds of thousands homeless in Nepal.

Norbu Wangchuk @norbuwangchuktg talked about the strong quake as did Zaheen Hafzer M M @zaheenhafzer, Audria yulistia @audriayulistia, digvijay harpale @dipuiant, 猹鸸嘶@澳洲留学中 @charles_0801 and Thinley Galey @thinley25.

Chris Taylor @chrisvtaylor wrote the “Early reports Nepal 7.4 quake just 82km NW of Kathmandu, can expect a lot of damage, casualties… ”

While reactions like that of Navroop Singh @s_navroop, such as “7.7 Quake in Nepal !!!! Huge” were flooding the social media radars, some handles took it to maintain some sourcing and sanity in this time of disaster: Austin Fernandes @quickbug noted his relief, “USGS finally shows the Nepal quake…”

If the handle @mjoven1975 (Matt Young) valued time as it is, frenzied conversation was taking place immediately after the quake, “Damn, 7.5 quake in Nepal about 20 minutes ago.”

Another handle, rajeevmehrotra @rajeevmehrotr10, however, wrote of the same time differently, “EARTH QUAKE jusj now, we all experienced here at NEPALGUNJ.NEPAL. Did You…? ? ?”

SparkleWithSurabhi @surabhi_lal sent the tweet with the magnitude value of the quake far off mark, putting the “Quake 6 on richter scale..”

An Indian twitizen, raghav @raghav2k, wrote, “7.7 scale quake! its a quite a sever one, thank God it’s so far off in Nepal. I dont think Delhi/Gurgaon/Noida can bear such severe quake.”

Debraj Subedi @dave77_raj posted: “Hope everything safe in Kathmandu ; Nepal for the intensified Earth Quake of 7.7 RScake.. .”

Another institutional handle, Press Trust of India @pti_news, wrote, “Magnitude of quake 7.5 on the Richter scale, epicentre at Nepal: IMD.”

Far away, Utv-Sri Lanka @utvsrilanka let the news break now: “BREAKING: 7.7-magnitude quake hits 80 km east of Pokhara, Nepal.”

The news was breaking everywhere: The Tribune @thetribunechd posted “#BreakingNews: Magnitude of quake 7.5 on the Richter scale, epicentre at Nepal: IMD”

The Straits Times Foreign Desk @stforeigndesk wrote, “Strong 7.7 magnitude quake felt in Nepal: Reports”

Umair Memon @umesome speculated, “Nepal’s gonna have a tough tough time ahead.,.,., 7.4 quake.,.., 33kms depth!”

Soon, some visualizers were already analyzing the flow of these tweets. With a 22-minute (1:34 PM to 1:57 PM) snapshot of that fateful Saturday, for example, Marc Smith created a network graph of 16,624 Twitter users, whose tweets contained “nepal”, or who were replied to or mentioned in those tweets.

Citizens and journalists were innovating ways to send tweets to share the news, what they saw, heard and went through.

With pictures of a Kathmandu valley temple taken before and after the quake, in about an hour apart, an Australian journalist got a lot of attention to her pictures outside the country.

When she posted the tweet, it was already a typical first afternoon of uncertainty and fear about the recurrence of the quake whose aftershocks have kept the survivors on the toe, alert to run outside if it begins to shake again, like they have done for more than 300 times in a month and a half. Other social media were equally active in sharing the ordeal that some eight million people had faced over the period. For example, on May 2, “LIVE Earthquake Dasarath Rangasala Stadium” was available on YouTube.

Millions of tweets flooded links online, to CCTV footage, videos, photos and texts, shared among friends and followers to feel what it was like to be in Nepal when the disaster devastated it on April 25, 2015 and continued to hit it, with another major aftershock on May 12, and other major jolts, till now.

The US-based Professor Dr Andrea Miller, who studies live, breaking news and who monitored the news on Twitter as it broke, told that she followed a fairly normal unveiling – started with EQ, richter scale, then the death toll count began. “As it rose, the pictures of the historical sites took over. The before and afters got a lot of attention on Twitter. I also remember the USGS having a lot of the early tweets.”

“I say Twitter because that is how I mostly followed the story – Twitter had a variety of good sources and pictures and constant updates.”

This analysis is based on breaking Twitter posts and mostly covers the tweets that appeared on timeline roughly during the first hour, following the quake on April 25. A part of the research support for this analysis came from the DR team.

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DISASTER REPORTING RESOURCES FOR THE MEDIA मिडियाका लागि विपद् रिपोर्टिंग स्रोत