The Great Sichuan Earthquake

In the Far Eastern Economic Review, Michael Zhao reports on the role of information technology in spreading breaking news about the earthquake:

In the moments following the quake, the world’s source of breaking news on the disaster was neither the Chinese government nor the Western media. As the first wave of shocks receded, Chinese and foreign residents across the country reached for the closest broadcast tools at hand, their cell phones and computers. Providing first-hand accounts of the earthquake and its immediate effects were thousands of “tweets”—blog entries posted to the Internet via text message. On QQ and MSN, two massively popular instant message services in China, friends traded second-by-second updates.

Minutes before the U.S. Geological Survey reported the quake on their home site and hours before media outlets ran their first stories, technology blogger Robert Scoble was publishing reactions to the quake from Chengdu to Beijing, giving voice to a corps of citizen journalists. With telecommunications severed, and more than 2,300 cell phone towers in the region toppled, news teams remained hours away.