About Social Media in Crises

My apologies for the recent lack of consistency on this blog. I was out recovering from surgery for a while, came back to work, and promptly caught whooping cough. I’m trying to catch up and get back into the habit.

Today I was lucky to be able to attend a fascinating presentation by Leysia Palen about the use of social media in community crisis and disaster situations. There were certain ways she was looking at the data and situations that intrigued me, and there were connections to other environments or potential applications of social media that I thought might be worth further exploration.

What interested me most were, of course, the case studies she presented. You can read more in the tweets below, and I hope the video they made will go online and that the slides might (pretty please???) go into Slideshare. What was most interesting was (1) the timing and evolution of events, (2) the connections and evolution of communities, and (3) the relationships to policymaking and official channels.

Relative to timing, Dr. Palen talked about how communications evolved during a crisis in response official communications, and how the community or engaged public response can rapidly deduce information similar, if not identical, to that released through official communications in approximately the same amount of time without remotely similar resources. The way patterns of public engagement and information sharing during crisis were fascinating.

The creation of emergent communities that coalesced in response to a crisis and dissolved following the crisis was also fascinating. The relationships of domain/topic, activity, resource, and tasks were asked she explored, although not in as much detail as I wished, so I hope she has published something more on this! As she was talking about how the interest, actions, resources and things to do all served to create a powerful active community dynamic that connected individuals, I thought there were lessons from that beyond the crisis situation or community, and relevant to anyone working as part of an online social community. I was thinking that there needs to be purposes, a reason and way to help and contribute, things you can do that have meaning to the rest of the community, a way to determine value and share discoveries. But she said it very nicely and in a way that provided a provocative insight into what so many of us are doing. It was as if we see the leaves and try to manage the forest, but she was seeing the forest (by analysing the leaves!).

The concerns and misunderstandings she described on the part of decisionmakers and policy makers echoed strongly with me relative to the use of social media in almost any professional role. I’ve been thinking about this a LOT lately with Science 2.0 / Open Science, open government and transparency and the whole Wikileaks misery, the difference between health 2.0 and marketing and patient communities, the whole issue of control and fostering the potential for growth (which are DIFFERENT).

Where I saw immediate relevance of her work was in two places. First, looking at the same kind of emergence and evolution of communities in online patient communities. I believe these have very similar dynamics to what she is observing in crises but at a much slower pace. Second, in risk science, where there is the potential to anticipate or head off potential crises through the use of social media.

I live tweeted it, so there is a record of my notes. Here are the tweets!


Transcript from December 14, 2010 to December 15, 2010
All times are Pacific Time

December 15, 2010
5:05 pm pfanderson: Leysia Palen from U CO Boulder is starting talk about social media in disasters & crises. #cmccrisis
5:07 pm pfanderson: Title is: Widescale CMC in Critical Situations: An Evolution of Perspective, Methods & Behaviors / Leysia Palen, U CO Boulder #cmccrisis
5:08 pm pfanderson: She is starting by describing history & context – Katrina, Olympic bombings #cmccrisis
5:10 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis Until recently focus has been on needs of 1st responders, formal response information need, neglected public info needs
5:11 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis What do the public do in disaster response? Critical roles! Prevent mortality, provide shelter, rescues, esp in structur collapse
5:13 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) in Wildfire situations.
5:13 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis Formal / informal information states in disasters – determine/define interface/intersection of these two spaces
5:14 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis Public in intensified information search during crisis. Evacuation orders not taken as gospel, but blended w/ local expertise
5:15 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis “There is no they. They won’t tell us if there’s danger. They Rn’t coming 2 help, they won’t fix bad info. We do it ourselves.”
5:16 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis Members of the public recognize they must rely on their own resources & information during crisis.
5:17 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis Policy tends 2b built assuming formal response is only major information need, doesn’t address public information needs/sources
5:17 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis Managers tend to think how can they leverage social media for their purposes, not so much engaging/sharing w/ public
5:18 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis Next question. Public has info that is helpful/needed by decisionmakers. How to partner? Every 12 hours? More immediacy needed
5:19 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis Each disaster has been evolving new ways to incorporate information / communication / collaboration w/ social media
5:20 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis Crisis informatics definition. Extended social arena / ino space / goal: informed development & use of social computing
5:20 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis Some people think crisis informatics means Twitter. She says, not just. 😉
5:21 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis Early decisions require defining important search terms, sometime choices not always best, account for evolution of issues
5:22 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis Styles of data collection differ for disasters, mass convergence events (planned & unplanned)
5:23 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis Case: Virginia Tech brought attention to CMC, challenged preconceptions, collaborative intelligence
5:24 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis She has IRB approval in place to allow rapid response to emerging events like this.
5:25 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis How students were using Facebook during Virginia Tech crisis. Didn’t ask how many, asked WHY, how individuals gathered info
5:27 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis She now gathers millions of tweets a day during crisis, with automated systems. Then was manual (like what I do)
5:28 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis Great pic of giant paper timeline plotted with stickynotes. Then converted to printable timeline. Fascinated by how she did this
5:30 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis Strong ties contacts during early day. Loose tie networks exploration came later in the day. Who’s ok?
5:31 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis Facebook groups collected information on who was OK. “I’m ok at VTU” After 11, awareness of scale changed, dynamic changed.
5:33 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis Information problem 2 solve after death total announced was how to ID vics. 5 efforts, no 1 list complete but aggregate was
5:34 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis Collective intelligence solved public concern before official release. Public information was more accurate than formal @ that pt
5:35 pm pfanderson: Case: Haiti earthquake disaster. Collected a 10% sample of all tweet datafor 2 weeks, equaled 7 million tweets #cmccrisis
5:36 pm pfanderson: Yay! #cmccrisis She’s talking about Tweak the Tweet http://is.gd/iNv96 and how folks shared info. Emergency microsyntax A>T>D “voluntweeters” challenge hoaxr
5:48 pm pfanderson: Humanity Road crisis tweeters http://humanityroad.org/ #cmccrisis
5:49 pm pfanderson: #cmccrisis Leyla: “self-organizing & collective behavior theories offer explanatatory power for trends in social computing”
5:53 pm pfanderson: She starts Q&A on crisis informatics & social media. Yes, she mentioned @Ushaidi. Developing everyday analyst tech support YAY!!! #cmccrisis
5:54 pm pfanderson: Q: NSF collaboratory creation. What abt adding in satellite, webcams, other info sources of real time data? “Citizen sensor” #cmccrisis
5:55 pm pfanderson: Q: What about liability / law suits of having info & not sharing or sharing info that shouldn’t be shared? #cmccrisis
5:56 pm pfanderson: Q: How to crowdsource people who want to help? What about other motivators? #cmccrisis
5:57 pm pfanderson: A: Social networks / information networks as self organizing around defined problems of interest “Empirical taxonomy” #cmccrisis
5:59 pm pfanderson: Q: Are there examples of where collective intelligence got it wrong? #cmccrisis A: This is the concern, liability. Misinfo/disinformation
6:00 pm pfanderson: A: She hasn’t yet seen that. Biggest hurdle is those with no digital voice. How to ID absence of information, not just presence #cmccrisis
6:00 pm pfanderson: A: When a retweet becomes spam, even after the problem has been solved. #cmccrisis
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