By: Christine Carmichael
The latest issue of Computers in Human Behavior features an article by Knight Center research director Bruno Takahashi and graduate student staff member Christine Carmichael, along with co-author Edson Tandoc Jr. of the Philippines.
The article, “Communicating on Twitter during a disaster: An analysis of tweets during Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines,” describes results from a content analysis of 1,000 tweets published by Twitter users before, during and after the deadly typhoon in the Philippines in November 2013. In light of the two recent and devastating earthquakes in Nepal, there is a growing need to understand the current and potential uses of social media services to assist those affected.
Despite the increasingly important role played by social media services in raising awareness and coordinating relief efforts during numerous natural disasters in recent years, there is a limited understanding of how lay populations use social media during such events. The results of this study helped to identify effective uses of services such as Twitter during disasters, and importantly, ways in which individuals and organizations can leverage social media services to improve disaster preparedness and response efforts for those in dire need.
Specifically, the study sought to determine differences and similarities in Twitter use among types of users (e.g. journalists, government agencies, individuals) and at different times throughout the disaster. The most common use of Twitter during Typhoon Haiyan was to report secondhand news and information from news organizations (43.4%), followed by tweets to memorialize and express well wishes (32.3%), and tweets to coordinate relief efforts by seeking aid such as volunteers and donations (14.6%). Very few tweets involved personal reporting of one’s condition and experience on the ground (4.9%).
Results also point to what is lacking in social media use during disasters. For example, government entities tweeted primarily secondhand news (52.9% of their tweets), but only 26.5% of government tweets aimed to coordinate relief efforts. In the future, government officials could use social media much more to coordinate rescue and relief efforts, particularly before such storms make landfall. Additionally, more than 65% of tweets from celebrities sought to memorialize victims, instead of using their large following to mobilize people to donate (21.7% of their tweets).
A major overall finding of the study is that instead of maximizing the nontraditional capabilities of social media services like Twitter, users use these services to fulfill their traditional roles, such as secondhand news dissemination by individuals and news organizations. In the future, social media could be an ideal platform for disaster planning and preparedness, as well as relief coordination. For example, information about evacuation centers and relief preparation centers could be disseminated prior to landfall of typhoons or hurricanes and possibly aid those affected before they lose power and ability to access social media services.
While this study helped to refine the set of factors that predict certain social media uses during disasters, a need exists to explore additional functions that social media can play, such as the distribution of photographic evidence. Additionally, more research can assist in further refining and testing these categories of social media use.
The entire article is at http://authors.elsevier.com/a/1Qy302f~UVu9t4 or http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563215003076