Big data study of disaster-related language in social media wins 2016 Human Factors prize

April 19, 2017, Human Factors and Ergonomics Society

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society congratulates Andrew Hampton and Valerie Shalin on receiving the 2016 Human Factors Prize for their article, "Sentinels of Breach: Lexical Choice as a Measure of Urgency in Social Media." The prize, which recognizes excellence in human factors/ergonomics (HF/E) research, confers a $10,000 cash award and publication of the winning paper in the Society's flagship journal, Human Factors. The authors presented their work at a special session at the 2016 HFES International Annual Meeting, which was held in October in Washington, DC.

The winning paper, now online, explores how the properties of language style used in social media—particularly on Twitter—can help first responders quickly identify areas of need during a disaster. The authors analyzed several hundred thousand tweets from social media users located in and around the areas where Hurricane Sandy, the Oklahoma tornadoes, and the Boston Marathon bombing occurred. They evaluated 36 antonym pairs commonly used in language, such as "start" versus "stop," to determine whether an increase in the frequency of tweets could indicate which disaster areas were hardest hit and needed immediate attention.

According to Hampton, "Our research focused on formulating how we can screen social data for uniquely available information that is useful to disaster responders. Conventionally, this involves looking for references to specific people or resources, but we believe that general language style will help reduce the size of the otherwise unmanageably large data sets that simply cannot be examined manually."

Shalin adds, "People tend to associate tweeting with something simplistic or immature, but it is incredibly far-reaching and flexible. It always takes time to understand and find practical applications for new forms of communication. This research is a step in that direction for ."

The topic for the 2016 competition was Big Data, and submissions focused on pertaining to or the use of big data to solve HF/E problems. Papers were judged on the importance and originality of the research, contribution to the HF/E knowledge base, and soundness of the methodology.

"We feel honored to have our work recognized by the reviewers and the Society," says Hampton. "The Society's mission of impacting the design of systems and devices was exactly our goal in undertaking this research. Our work advances /ergonomics by placing the characteristics of human behavior regarding the use of language at the center of technology."

Explore further: How social media has synchronized human civilization

More information: Andrew J. Hampton et al, Sentinels of Breach, Human Factors (2017). DOI: 10.1177/0018720817691612

Related Stories

How social media has synchronized human civilization

February 28, 2017

Human activity, whether commercial or social, contains patterns and moments of synchronicity. In recent years, social media like Twitter has provided an unprecedented volume of data on the daily activities of humans all over ...

Tweets from mobile devices are more likely to be egocentric

October 1, 2015

Mobile devices have changed the way we interact with the world. It's now normal behavior to take selfies or live Tweet an event, but can a mobile device really be an extension of ones self? A recent study published in the ...

Mining social media can help improve disaster response efforts

January 20, 2016

Leveraging publicly available social media posts could help disaster response agencies quickly identify impacted areas in need of assistance, according to a Penn State-led team of researchers. By analyzing the September 2013 ...

Recommended for you

Matter waves and quantum splinters

March 25, 2019

Physicists in the United States, Austria and Brazil have shown that shaking ultracold Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) can cause them to either divide into uniform segments or shatter into unpredictable splinters, depending ...

How tree diversity regulates invading forest pests

March 25, 2019

A national-scale study of U.S. forests found strong relationships between the diversity of native tree species and the number of nonnative pests that pose economic and ecological threats to the nation's forests.


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.