January 11, 2012

How Social Media Fought The Floods

Social media sites Twitter and Facebook played a key role in disseminating information during the 2011 Queensland floods.

This is the finding of a new report released today by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI), and available from http://cci.edu.au/.

CCI researchers Assoc. Professor Axel Bruns and Dr Jean Burgess from Queensland University of Technology and Assoc. Prof. Kate Crawford and Frances Shaw from the University of New South Wales focused especially on the role of Twitter, which was prominently used by the Queensland Police Service during the crisis.

“Through their @QPSMedia Twitter account, Police staff provided timely updates directly from the Premier´s situation meetings”, said Prof. Bruns. “Many mainstream media picked up on these updates and included them in their own news tickers.”

But social media didn´t just improve communication between police and media organizations. During the week of 10 January 2011, some 15,000 users — from official accounts to locals affected by the floods — participated in the #qldfloods hashtag on Twitter, sharing news, advice, photos and videos of the inundation.

“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”, said Dr. Burgess. “People on Twitter were working together to respond to the crisis, showing a strong spirit of cooperation.”

The @QPSMedia account 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.

“@QPSMedia´s updates achieved great visibility online especially because Queensland and Australian Twitter users were passing them along through retweeting”, said Ms. Shaw. “It is only by collaborating with the overall userbase that official accounts manage to cut through, and the Queensland Police Media Unit understood this well. They also received great encouragement and applause for their work from the wider Twitter community.”

A particularly successful intervention by @QPSMedia was its series of ℠#Mythbuster´ tweets, which corrected rumors and misinformation circulating through social media (and some mainstream media). These tweets were retweeted widely by other users.

“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”, said Prof. Crawford. “Social media users understand that their networks have become important additional channels for crisis communication.”

The CCI Report is an outcome of the multi-year Media Ecologies and Methodological Innovation project, which examines the place of social media within the overall mediasphere, with a particular focus on acute events such as natural disasters.

Working with the Queensland Department of Community Safety and the Brisbane-based think-tank Eidos Institute, the researchers will now embark on a three-year ARC Linkage research project which seeks to further investigate the use of social media during natural disasters in Queensland and elsewhere. The project will also develop improved strategies for the effective use of social media by emergency organizations.

The ARC Centre for Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) is helping to build a creative Australia through cutting edge research spanning the creative industries, media and communications, arts, cultural studies, law, information technology, education and business. It is funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC).


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