7.4 Public Attention to Extreme Weather: Sense-making on Social Media

Wednesday, 10 January 2018: 12:00 AM
Ballroom F (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Amber Silver, SUNY at Albany, Albany, NY; and J. Andrey

Recent advancements in the development of information and communications technologies over the last several decades have revolutionized the ways that individuals and groups access and interpret information. Perhaps most notably, the invention of the Internet represents a major technological and ideological shift in communications of all kinds, including risk communication. Social networking sites act as digital social environments that allow citizens to engage in information seeking, interpretation, and dissemination activities. The purpose of this research is to explore how social media facilitates the collaborative and iterative interpretation of an extreme weather event. Using Twitter data collected during a tornado-warned storm that affected southern Ontario in September 2016, this study utilizes computer assisted content analysis and thematic coding to explore how users, both individually and collectively, made sense of official and unofficial warning information. The results show that weather professionals (e.g., meteorologists and forecasters) and weather enthusiasts (e.g., storm chasers and storm spotters) are key actors who facilitate discussion during the event. These individuals dominated discourse before and during the severe weather outbreak, while citizens picked up the discussion shortly thereafter. Citizens engaged in the process of sense-making by re-tweeting, which allowed for the propagation of information across social networks, and by sharing personal observations of the storm. The results of this study highlight the usefulness of Twitter as a platform for sense-making, owing largely to the flexible, interactive, and rapid nature of communication through this medium. This study also underscores the fact that individuals are adept interpreters of information, even when obvious social and emotional cues are absent.
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