Tweeting disasters

October 10, 2011
Search and rescue. Credit: DVIDSHUB from Flickr

Professor John Preston, who is based at the University of East London's Cass School of Education, will tell the ‘Violent Nature’ Research Councils UK debate that Twitter and Facebook have been credited with being able to pick up advance signals of disasters. However, it is only in retrospect that the significance of the signals can be ascertained.

The debate focuses on whether governments, scientists and aid agencies can manage the risks of living in potentially lethal locations. Other speakers include Professor James Jackson from the University of Cambridge, Daniel Walden, policy adviser for disaster risk reduction at Save the Children UK and Dr. Andrew Collins, reader and director of the Disaster and Development Center at Northumbria University. It will be chaired by James Randerson, the Guardian’s science and environment editor.

Professor Preston is the leader of a two-year cross-disciplinary research program, supported by the the Research Councils UK Global Uncertainties Program, which began in 2010 and seeks to uncover how the likes of Twitter and Facebook could save lives in the event of a national crisis such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

He says that where Twitter in particular works well is in correcting information and countering false rumors. “There is an inherent self-correcting bias in Twitter which is like the scientific process. When someone posts it sifts the evidence for and against and the more current information countervails anything that came before,” says Professor Preston, whose book Disaster Education is out early next year.

He adds: “Social networks can be used for malicious reasons to spread rumours by targeting false information at a few super-connected people. Information spread this way would take longer to correct.”

Professor Preston says: “Part of the reason authorities are put off using social media to spread information during is that it can appear quite uncontrollable since information sharing after disasters tends to be followed by a period of emotional reflection on what it means. Emotion is very important in social media. It’s not just about . People use it quite creatively which can make it a little bit uncontrollable.”

The research program is looking at how to prepare the UK better for disasters, through, for instance, cell broadcasting and community education, and is looking at lessons that can be learnt from the past.

Explore further: Measuring the ability to bounce back from disaster, tragedy

Related Stories

Measuring the ability to bounce back from disaster, tragedy

December 3, 2010

Hurricane Katrina. 9/11. The BP oil spill. Natural and manmade disasters destroy lives and cost billions in damages. Communities do their best to cope, clean up and rebuild, but psychological and societal scars can linger, ...

Facebook can help in disasters: academic

March 18, 2011

An Australian academic Friday praised the increasing use of social media during disasters, saying there had been a "beautiful display of humanity" on Facebook during recent catastrophes.

In an emergency, word spreads fast and far

April 4, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Large-scale emergencies, such as bombings and plane crashes, trigger a sharp spike in the number of phone calls and text messages sent by eyewitnesses in the vicinity of the disaster, according to a research ...

The kids are alright

May 26, 2011

Children should be seen and not heard... who says? A Philosophy academic at The University of Nottingham is challenging the adage by teaching primary school children to argue properly.

Recommended for you

How to curb emissions? Put a price on carbon

September 3, 2015

Literally putting a price on carbon pollution and other greenhouse gasses is the best approach for nurturing the rapid growth of renewable energy and reducing emissions.

Magnetic fields provide a new way to communicate wirelessly

September 1, 2015

Electrical engineers at the University of California, San Diego demonstrated a new wireless communication technique that works by sending magnetic signals through the human body. The new technology could offer a lower power ...

For these 'cyborgs', keys are so yesterday

September 4, 2015

Punching in security codes to deactivate the alarm at his store became a thing of the past for Jowan Oesterlund when he implanted a chip into his hand about 18 months ago.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.