#Earthquake: Twitter as a Distributed Sensor System


  • Acknowledgments: We would like to acknowledge Eric Fischer and Maksim Tsvetovat for their assistance.

Address for correspondence: Andrew Crooks, Department of Computational Social Science, George Mason University. Research I, CSC Suite, Level 3, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030, USA. E-mail: acrooks2@gmu.edu


Social media feeds are rapidly emerging as a novel avenue for the contribution and dissemination of information that is often geographic. Their content often includes references to events occurring at, or affecting specific locations. Within this article we analyze the spatial and temporal characteristics of the twitter feed activity responding to a 5.8 magnitude earthquake which occurred on the East Coast of the United States (US) on August 23, 2011. We argue that these feeds represent a hybrid form of a sensor system that allows for the identification and localization of the impact area of the event. By contrasting this with comparable content collected through the dedicated crowdsourcing ‘Did You Feel It?’ (DYFI) website of the U.S. Geological Survey we assess the potential of the use of harvested social media content for event monitoring. The experiments support the notion that people act as sensors to give us comparable results in a timely manner, and can complement other sources of data to enhance our situational awareness and improve our understanding and response to such events.