Public, Publics, and Social Media: Ethnographic Observations on Forecasters Navigating Uncertainty Regarding Social Media
While most forecasters have accepted the growing role of social media in their WFOs, lingering skepticism and uncertainty has limited the effectiveness of social media as a “new way to reach new audiences.” Drawing on almost two years of ethnographic research involving observations of WFO operations and semi-structured interviews conducted with 44 forecasters representing 11 different WFOs across the country, we will discuss how forecasters navigate skepticism and uncertainty regarding “publics.” Considering how “publics” are viewed as both consumers of weather information and in their growing role as providers of information through social media, we pay particular attention to how forecasters talked about their uncertainties in terms of reliability of reports and the inherent, perceived risks of “believing” social media.
Our broader research has revealed the value of “big data” streams of social media information for understanding what, when, and how people communicate before, during, and after severe weather events. It is equally important, then, to understand what barriers might be faced in attempting to implement social media data as a useful source of information for operational forecasters. Understanding forecaster culture, beliefs, and perceptions is a key, first-step for improving the integration of social media into everyday operations.