When Seconds Count: The Challenge of Slow Social Media Alerts

On December 1, 2011, in Social Media, by with Altus Emergency Management

As readers will know, I have been a huge fan of social media when it is used as part of a plan in part of the toolbox (I most recently talked about it here). As a stand-alone tool, it has shown value and failure.

A 2009 study from Germany, titled A Measurement-driven Analysis of Information Propagation in the Flickr Social Networktraces messages as they “propagate” around the Internet. This study provided at least one disturbing finding:

We also find that information spreads slowly in the network; even the most popular photos exhibit a slow, steady growth in popularity over a long period of time (1-2 years).

This is not comforting, if one is relying on social media for timely, accurate accounting of what is happening where.  Preppers say “When seconds count, response is minutes away“. This is an example of when a delay in the warning process may cause a problem during extreme events.

For example, during a recent tornado warning, one National Weather Service office tweeted:

This is a serious situation for Snyder OK. Large tornado! If you know someone there, tell them to take cover NOW!! #okwx
NWS Norman

The result was a number of retweets, some as late at two hours after the fact.

As I discussed in an earlier post, Social Media is a good tool to have in the toolbox… But emergency managers must also have other tools (at least three) to get information from trusted sources.


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