While nearly everyone in Costa Rica felt the tremors, the first report of the earthquake came not from radio, television or newswires, but from the social networking Web site Twitter.
The report, posted by Twitter user “reiterstahl” at 1:22 p.m., one minute after the earthquake occurred, consisted of a single exclamation: “TEMBLORRRRRR!!!!!!” Soon after, the site was abuzz with news updates, requests for help and information and offers of aid and donations for quake victims.
The use of Twitter and other social networking Web sites illustrates how digital technology has transformed the spread of news and information, said Cristian Cambronero, multimedia journalist and director of the firm NiuMEDIA.co.cr. Such changes, he said, blur the distinction between citizen and journalist.
“Citizens begin to play an active role in the process of generating information and are not simply readers or listeners, as before,” he said. “These tools are based in the participation, interaction and unification of users as protagonists.”
Cambronero, who has harnessed such social networking tools on his popular blog “Fusil de Chispas,” soon became a must-read source of information on the quake for Ticos and interested parties worldwide. His Twitter feed, by which other users subscribe to his postings, was the third-most viewed worldwide between 1 and 2 p.m. Thursday.
Several other blogs quickly utilized new technologies as well. The San Carlos-based “Jagual del Platanar,” for example, published an interactive Google map, illustrating the quake’s epicenter and marking sites that had suffered damage.
Making its own foray into social networking, the daily La Nacion employed a feature called “Cover it Live” on its Web site following Thursday’s quake. With “Cover it Live,” which has also been used by media outlets such as Newsweek and Yahoo! Sports, readers posted updates and comments in real time, allowing news and information about the quake to flow instantly.
La Nacion reported Friday that the reader response exceeded expectations. More than 9,000 people visited the site Thursday, La Nacion reported, with more than 4,000 comments. Interest was so high, however, that La Nacion’s Web site crashed briefly on Thursday and Friday.
Ticos also turned to social networking sites such as Facebook to spread news, share information and pitch in to help quake victims. A group called “Earthquake Costa Rica: Help the Victims” boasted more than 1,200 members as of 5:30 p.m. Friday. People from all over the world were posting news reports, offering support and connecting those in need with those volunteering aid.
“Social networks have proven to be very efficient tools for organizing and mobilizing people,” Cambronero said.
Like all forms of media, however, citizen journalism and social networking are not perfect. Friday morning, for example, conflicting casualty reports caused some confusion among Twitter users. But these technologies, Cambronero said, have the ability to self-regulate, thanks to the wisdom of the crowds.
“Traditional media often publish inaccurate information with the highest frequency, so that it would be unjust to mention inaccuracy as a weakness when speaking of citizen journalism,” he said. “Social networks also have the characteristic of self-regulation, with the community of users moderating the content, verifying information, correcting it and enriching it.”