UPDATE May 30:  LA Times ‘Quakebot,’ USGS Alerts Fail for Second Straight Day, Trigger Stories for 2 California Temblors

SOLUTION:  How To Tell If A Quake Alert Is Real Or A False Alarm

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REDDING (CBS SF) — An earthquake with magnitude of 5.1 was reported but never hit the Redding area overnight.

The United States Geological Survey reported the quake just after midnight, seven miles outside of Lewiston, just under Buckeye Ridge at Clair Engle Lake.

But the Associated Press confirmed Friday morning that this was a “…erroneous alert based off an earthquake that struck in Alaska.”

The event record of the California quake has since vanished from the USGS seismic activity map.

The USGS now shows no Northern California quakes over magnitude 2.5 in the last 24 hours. (USGS)

The USGS now shows no Northern California quakes over magnitude 2.5 in the last 24 hours. (USGS)

Around the same time, a magnitude 6.7 quake was recorded off an island in southwest Alaska.

As of 9 a.m., the computer algorithm used to automatically “write” earthquake stories for the Los Angeles Times continued to list the quake as a recorded event.

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Quakebot reports a Redding earthquake that never happened. (LA Times)

Quakebot reports a Redding earthquake that never happened. (LA Times)

“Quakebot is programmed to extract the relevant data from the USGS report and plug it into a pre-written template. The story goes into the LAT’s content management system, where it awaits review and publication by a human editor,” Slate reported in a 2014 article about the newspaper’s use of the computerized journalism technology.

The Los Angeles Times confirms that a human editor continues to review all Quakebot stories. In Friday’s case, a “deletion notice” was not sent out through the automated government systems.  The Times mentioned that the newspaper’s editors are working with the USGS on coordinating the two automated systems to make sure the data is accurate.

The article with headline and excerpt describing the sizeable earthquake continue to exist on the LATimes.com website, but a paragraph was added reading: “10:57 a.m.: This post is incorrect, with the USGS reporting that sensors in California misidentified seismic activity from a magnitude 6.7 quake that struck earlier in Alaska. The USGS reported there was no earthquake in the area at the time reported.”

Journalist and programmer Ken Schwencke designed “Quakebot,” but left the Times in 2014. The system is described in depth here in the Columbia Journalism Review.

Automated data feeds are increasingly common, and news outlets including the Associated Press are using them to automatically write and share everything from stock updates to NCAA sports stories.

COMPLETE QUAKE COVERAGE: CBS Earthquake Resource Center

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