Twitter’s Crucial Role During the QLD Floods
Wednesday, 11th January 2012 at 4:19 pm
A year on from the devastating Queensland floods and a new report has highlighted the crucial role that social media sites, Twitter and Facebook, played in disseminating information during the emergency.
The report “#qldfloods and @QPSMedia: Crisis Communication on Twitter in the 2011 South East Queensland Floods” says social media played a crucial tool in disseminating information, informing communities, sharing knowledge and coordinating cleanup activities.
The report says the twitter hashtag #qldfloods quickly became ‘the central coordination mechanism for floods-related user activity on Twitter’, with more than 15,500 Twitter users using the hashtag.
Overall, more than 35,000 tweets containing the #qldfloods hashtag were sent during the period of 10-16 January, with more than 11,600 of them on 12 January alone (the height of the Brisbane flooding).
These are the key findings of the report from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI), produced by CCI researchers Assoc. Prof. Axel Bruns and Dr. Jean Burgess from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and Assoc. Prof. Kate Crawford and Frances Shaw from the University of New South Wales
The report focused especially on the role of Twitter, which was prominently used by Queensland Police during the crisis.
CCI researcher Assoc. Prof. Axel Bruns said, “Through their @QPSMedia Twitter account, police staff provided timely updates directly from the Queensland Premier’s situation meetings. Many mainstream media picked up on these updates and included them in their own news tickers.”
But the usefulness of Twitter extended further. “During the week of 10 January 2011, some 15,000 users participated in the #qldfloods hashtag on Twitter, sharing news, advice, photos and videos of the inundation,” Dr Burgess said.
“Social media were important in enabling local communities to stay informed, share their own knowledge and experiences, and to coordinate flood protection and cleanup activities. People on Twitter were working together to respond to the crisis, showing a strong spirit of cooperation.”
The reasearchers commended the Queensland Police Media Unit, saying that through the @QPSMedia twitter account, they became a leading participant, sharing important information which was widely passed along by other users in the network, and responding quickly to the local Twitter community.
During the floods, @QPSMedia ran a series of ‘#Mythbuster’ tweets, which corrected rumours and misinformation circulating through social and other media, which were widely retweeted, according to Professor Crawford.
“During times of crisis, many arguments and disagreements are suspended, and we see users come together to ensure that important information gets through to as many people as possible. Social media users understand that their networks have become important additional channels for crisis communication,” Professor Crawford said.
The report says that while social media can play an important role in crisis communication and emergency management, the use of social media for crisis communication is still emerging, and remains largely ad hoc.
The report recommends emergency services should review their current social media presences, and develop more comprehensive, flexible strategies for using social media in times of crisis. Crucially, this also involves further staff training in using social media effectively.
To view the report, visit http://cci.edu.au/floodsreport.pdf.
Other key findings:
- Emergency services and media organisations were amongst the most visible participants in #qldfloods, especially also because of the widespread retweeting of their messages.
- Twitter both drew on and became a source for mainstream media. Social media users around the world shared a wide range of flood-related media resources via Twitter. Meanwhile, users closer to the site of the disaster shared their own experiences and observations, often by including photographs and videos in their tweets.
- More than one in every five shared links in the #qldfloods dataset was to an image hosted on one of several image-sharing services; and users overwhelmingly depended on Twitpic and other Twitter-centric image-sharing services to upload and distribute the photographs taken on their smartphones and digital cameras.
- Twitter is used in important ways to find and disseminate information. 50-60% of #qldfloods messages were retweets (passing along existing messages, and thereby making them more visible); 30-40% of messages contained links to further information elsewhere on the Web.
- During the crisis, a number of Twitter users dedicated themselves almost exclusively to retweeting #qldfloods messages, acting as amplifiers of emergency information and thereby increasing its reach.
- #qldfloods tweets largely managed to stay on topic and focused predominantly on sharing directly relevant situational information, advice, news media and multimedia reports.
- As the most visible account on #qldfloods, the Queensland Police Service Media Unit account (@QPSMedia) played a leading role in disseminating timely and relevant information to the public, and in coordinating and guiding the wider discussion.
- The Queensland Police Service was able to ‘cut through’ effectively: to reach its immediate audience as well as be passed along and thus amplified many times over, with the help of other Twitter users acting as further information diseminators,especially at the height of the crisis.