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“Tweetquakes”

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Aug 29, 2011

Sometimes Tweets travel faster than seismic waves. And then, what happens?

In this wonderful webcomic from April 2010, an earthquake strikes, people Tweet, and within seconds, the news beats the temblor’s spread. Do people run for safety? No. They send new Tweets!

For the August 23, 2011 East Coast quake, 2 Harvard bloggers proved that truth does copy a cartoon. Calling it a tweetquake, they demonstrated that the 40,000+ Tweets that were sent within 1 minute of the quake radiated outward faster than the quake itself. You can see the Tweet spread here.

And here is how people were Tweeting about Hurricane Irene.

The Economic Lesson

Described in “Thinking Like an Economist,” (Lecture 6) from the Teaching Company, the economics of ignorance involves deciding how much information is optimal. Only when the benefit of an extra piece of information outweighs the cost of being ignorant should we be willing to add to our store of knowledge. While initially new data can be valuable, eventually, diminishing marginal utility starts to kick in and that extra piece of information is no longer worth our time or thought.

Even for a Tweet, then, we are always thinking at the margin, choosing a little more or less.

An Economic Question: When researching a topic, when does diminishing marginal utility set in?

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