Much about social media in disasters remains unknown, unprobed

The available research on social media use during disasters fails to account for the type of social media, says a report from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.

Research is "notably silent" on how use of social media during disasters varies by type, the December report (.pdf) says. Instead, it tends to track one social media service and then generalize its findings to the rest of social media.

That stands in contrast to research on social media outside the context of disasters, which the report says acknowledges that different social media services aren't interchangeable.

At the same time, the lines between social media and traditional media have blurred, and researchers tend to "artificially segment and bundle certain media as social media," the report says.

START also says that existing research doesn't compare social media use during different kinds of disasters.

Research tends to look at one major disaster and then generalize the findings. But, the report suggests, research ought to treat severe weather, health epidemics and terrorist attacks as separate subjects for inquiry.

It should also look for evidence about which of the elements of social media's popularity--such as its convenience, its timeliness and social norms--drive use during disasters in particular, the report adds.

Going forward, START calls on researchers to transition from pure descriptions of the use of social media in disasters and begin to craft evidence-based guidelines for its use. For now, a lack of national samples and long-term studies is impeding that next step, says the report.

For more:
- download the report, "Social Media Use during Disasters: A Review of the Knowledge Base and Gaps" (.pdf)

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