2011 Virginia Earthquake

2011 Virginia Earthquake

Updated Mar 31, 2014 at 01:55PM EDT by Brad.

Added Aug 23, 2011 at 09:19PM EDT by FrankDrebin.

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East Coast Earthquake refers to the seismic activity that occurred across the east coast of the United States on August 23rd, 2011. According to the United States Geological Survey[1], the 5.8 magnitude earthquake occurred at 1:51:04 PM at the epicenter near Mineral, Virginia. The event led to an enormous amount of online chatter, including Twitter activity, viral videos and image macros that often joked about the minimal amount of destruction that the quake caused.

Notable Developments

Jason Kottke[2] posted about the earthquake nearly an hour after it occurred:

This afternoon, an earthquake hit Virginia between Charlottesville and Richmond. It measured 5.9 on the Richter scale. For an earthquake, that’s in the “moderate” range but for an East Coast earthquake, it’s quite unusual. A look at the historical data for the eastern US states shows that this is the biggest quake to hit this coast since 1897 (a 5.9 in VA) and the second biggest of all time (well, since they started recording such things) after a 7.3 that hit South Carolina in 1886.

MSNBC writer Helen A.S. Popkin published an article titled “Twitter uses #earthquake to mock Nature’s wrath; you”[8] that discussed the various Internet conversations surrounding the quake on Twitter, Foursquare and other blogs. Meanwhile, there were a total of 22,028 check-ins at the “Earthquakepocalypse 2011” Foursquare[13] venue in NYC.

On Twitter

According to Trendistic[6], Twitter activity for “earthquake” peaked at 2:00pm on August 23rd, 9 minutes after the recorded quake activity at the Virginia epicenter.

An xkcd comic from April 5th, 2010 titled “Seismic Waves”[5] began circulating shortly after the quake. The comic claims that tweets about seismic waves can travel faster than the waves themselves.

On August 24th, The Atlantic[11] published an article titled “Do Earthquake-Related Tweets Travel Faster Than Seismic Waves?”, and embedded a video by Twitter engineer Miguel Rios that visualized earthquake-related Tweets within the first 30 seconds after the quake.

On Reddit

There were 242 posts referencing the earthquake on Reddit[3] on August 23rd, 2011, and 103 posts the following day.[4] The highest rated post titled “Devastation in downtown Washington DC following the earthquake”[16] received 23,838 up votes, and included an attached image of an aisle at Walmart with several products on the floor.

On Google+

A fake account impersonating economist Paul Krugman on the social networking site Google+ posted the following update after the earthquake struck:

People on twitter might be joking, but in all seriousness, we would see a bigger boost in spending and hence economic growth if the earthquake had done more damage.

The following morning, Krugman responded to the post on his New York Times[14] blog.

Well, this is interesting. I hear that the not-so-good people at National Review are attacking me over something I said on my Google+ page. Except, I don’t have a Google+ page.

The creator of the fake Google+ account came published a blog post admitting to creating the updates on his website Campaign Fix[15] later that day, and claimed he did not regret faking the post.

I do not regret writing it and I hope it will enlighten many on the perverse economic views held by a Nobel winning economist writing for the New York Times who also lectures at Princeton University. While Paul Krugman did not write the above statement, he has made similar statements within the year and I would not be surprised if Paul Krugman did not in fact hold this view.


Several image macros and “destruction photos” joked about the trivial earthquake damage by showing small items knocked on their side and referencing the September 11th slogan “never forget”.

“Never Forget”

Destruction Photos



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