June 10, 2019

Is Social Media Chatter Really a Good Source for Disruption Signals?

Charlotte Lynch by Charlotte Lynch

One of the simple and yet vital questions we often face is do people really post on social media during a crisis? In an article for the New Statesman, Dr Kiwarn explains that passersby may feel ‘a “social responsibility” to share their knowledge, particularly in situations where there is a fear of media bias’. There are often people detached enough from the situation to comment on what is happening, but close enough to give an overview of how severe the situation is. It could be a hugely influential and dramatic part of their day so they want to share their experience, or they could want to provide updates of their safety to family and friends, maybe even context for local officials. Whatever the reasons might be, this is an invaluable signal for newsrooms, security teams, operations teams and even PR teams who work to alert the public and staff to respond most effectively in a crisis.

It’s incredibly rare to go to a mainstream event and see nobody on their phone posting online about the occasion. It just doesn’t happen with today’s technology. This information posted online is incredibly useful to security teams and emergency services planning a response to the situation, as they can get a scope of the crisis before even reaching it. Snapchat was very quick to alert newsrooms to the fire that happened in the early hours of the morning at Coachella, giving crucial situational awareness.

At the end of April 2019, a fire broke out at a scrap-yard in Ammanford, Wales, prompting nearby residents to post Snaps and Tweets about the event. This information gives context and an understanding of how severe the fire is, whether or not it is confined to the area and which areas people should avoid.

Snapchats and tweet of huge black smoke cloudSnapchats and tweet of huge black smoke cloud

In the US alone, 7 out of 10 teens aged 13-18 say they check social media more than once a day. They are proficient in the use of social media, having grown up with it as a social norm rather than a new technology. This means that when something out of the ordinary happens to them, social media is often the first place they’ll look to tell. This can be used as a good indicator for security teams where an incident is taking place on campus, how long for and to what extent. It’s also good for PR teams to be able to gain an understanding of how it is affecting students by analysing their reactions.

Tweet text: how does an entire university lose powerTweet text: how does an entire university lose power

Freak incidents can’t be planned for. You can do your best to prepare, but the unknown unknowns mostly require efficient and effective crisis responses. Social media is a place that teams can draw from to aid in these responses, as it gives contextual evidence and a constant feed of information for you to draw from. A small plane crash in California was first reported on social media by residents and passersby who witnessed the immediate aftermath of the event, informing local services and the media in the process.

Tweet text: @KTLAnewsdesk there was just a small plane crash in Yorba Linda near KellogTweet text: @KTLAnewsdesk there was just a small plane crash in Yorba Linda near Kellog

Public transport often means you’ll find large groups of people together in one place. When a crisis occurs, it’s incredibly useful for newsrooms, security teams and local services when some of these people post details on social media. This can then be used to scale a response accordingly. Early in 2019, a main train station in Cairo was on fire due to a train derailment and subsequent explosion. Those who could took to social media to warn others of the event and provide key information for services dealing with the response.

Text on tweet: Cairo train station is on fire!!Text on tweet: Cairo train station is on fire!!

SAM scans social media for posts like the ones above and creates SAM Alerts to indicate crisis events happening worldwide. The alert will update as new information comes in, so teams are always aware of the latest developments and can respond accordingly. If you would like to learn more about how SAM could help your organisation, then please click below and a member of the SAM team will be in touch.

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