How Members of the Public Have Used Facebook and Twitter in Response to a Disaster: A Comparative Case Study




Dreyfuss, Ira

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Social networking through Twitter, Facebook and similar platforms is widespread and is a main avenue through which members of the public communicate about, during, and after disasters. These Internet- and smartphone-based platforms facilitate discourse among people affected by a disaster and those who want to help them. Such discourse, instances of communication constituting organization, can create ad hoc self-help communities. These communications can be measured as to effectiveness in providing help in emergencies. This thesis compares communications by members of the public using the Facebook group SnowedOutAtlanta and the Twitter hashtag #snowedoutatlanta during the Atlanta snow and ice storm that began January 28, 2014. Using the CAUSE Model (Rowan, Botan, Kreps, Samoilenko, & Farnsworth, 2009) as a basis for identifying functional goals in crises, the first 500 Facebook group posts and the first 500 Twitter posts were analyzed. Messages were coded for indications of Enactment (i.e., behavior, such as offering or accepting shelter), Connection (information that could help others, such as reports of traffic safety conditions of specific sections of specific roads), Comment (messaging related to the storm but which did not render aid, such as personal emotional reaction to the storm), and Spam (messaging unrelated to the storm or to promote sales of products, such as advertisements for songs). Results indicate Facebook group traffic showed strong evidence of fostering provision of aid such as offering and providing shelter and transportation to people stranded by the storm, while Twitter users mostly provided information such as personal comments, with little evidence of providing aid. The findings demonstrate the potential for applied research in social network platform use related to providing help during disasters. The findings also provide guidance for emergency communicators and members of the public that platforms such as Facebook can facilitate provision of aid, while platforms such as Twitter can facilitate information exchange. Keywords Facebook, Twitter, disaster, emergency, social media, behavior change



Facebook, Twitter, Disaster, Social media, Emergency, Behavior change