The strangest thing I heard about today was a QuakeBot writing a story in the Los Angeles Times for …
… an earthquake felt on Twitter – and nowhere else.
A report of a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in the Pacific Ocean near Santa Barbara, Calif. turned out to be a false alarm. An automatically generated report went live on Wednesday based on a quake that happened in the same area almost 100 years ago, according to The Associated Press.
“The quake did happen, but it happened in 1925,” Rafael Abreu, a geophysicist from the U.S. Geological Survey told AP.
It turns out that researchers from the California Institute of Technology were researching the 1925 Santa Barbara quake, and it somehow set off the automated alert that went out to email accounts, the USGS stated.
Software then interpreted the research as a current event, and sent out the report.
The fake quake never appeared on the USGS website, though, and it sent out a statement via Twitter shortly after, saying the report was “errant” and they were “working to resolve the issue.”
Even though tweets from those who actually felt the tremor were mysteriously silent, the report generated a huge response on Twitter. The initial report sent off a chain of other automated alerts, and was picked up by media outlets like The Los Angeles Times who later had to redact a story.
“We have an algorithm (Quakebot) that automatically writes stories about earthquakes based on USGS alerts,” The Los Angeles Times tweeted. “The USGS alert was incorrect.
That didn’t stop concerned citizens from flocking to Twitter to find out if Californians were safe:
For reference, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake would be felt by millions and would likely cause “considerable damage” and “partial collapse” in average buildings, as well as the fall of chimneys, factory stacks, columns, monuments, and walls, according to the USGS.
The AP reported that false alarms through the service are fairly common, but they rarely report quakes so big or in such populated areas.