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New report: Social media use during disasters

Literature review on current research, knowledge gaps

Given the increasingly important role social media play as sources of information during man-made and natural disasters, START researchers recently set out to find what is known and yet to be determined about social media use in that context. In the new literature review, "Social Media Use during Disasters," the researchers provide detailed information about the public's use of social media, both generally and during disasters, and address what prompts the public to use social media during disasters as well as what deters such consumption.

The report also discusses factors that might lead to active versus passive social media use during disasters and summarizes the relatively modest research regarding how to evaluate the influence of social media and, importantly, segment active versus passive social media users during disasters. The report ends with a discussion of areas warranting further research to contribute to this growing body of knowledge.

Scattered throughout the report are examples of social media consumption during key catastrophic events such as the September 11, 2001 attacks, the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, and the 2010 Haitian earthquake. The case studies provide insights into how the public used social media and other media, including some preliminary lessons learned from these notable events.

"We hope this report can serve as a map for policy makers and emergency managers as they navigate disaster communication decisions," said Brooke Fisher Liu, START researcher and Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Maryland.

"We sought to provide a summary of what is currently known so decision makers don't have to risk relying on intuition alone or inaccurate information."

The report, "Social Media Use during Disasters," can be downloaded here.

It is part of a project, which is sponsored through START by the Resilient Systems Division of the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, that is being conducted by Liu; Yan Jin, Associate Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University; and Julia Daisy Fraustino, doctoral student at University of Maryland -- that will culminate in a national sample experiment investigating how participants view and intend to use social media during disasters.