Harvard Medical School researchers examined the information flow on Twitter during the Boston Marathon bombings and have announced that Twitter is a valuable tool for emergency workers and others during such disasters.
The scientists observed tweets containing the word stems “explos” or “explod,” or the word “bomb,” just 3 minutes after the explosions.
The following figure illustrates the timeline of information during the bombings; social media messages directly from individuals on the ground were the timeliest, followed closely by validated public health alerts; messages from news sources followed both of these.
You can also see, in the following map, how accurate real-time social media messages are based on proximity to the emergency. Here’s a geographical layout of the tweets selected using the stems “explod” and “explos” in the immediate vicinity of the Boston Marathon finish line from the first 20 minutes after the bombings:
As the researchers write,
“These finely detailed geographic data can be used to localize and characterize events assisting emergency response in decision-making.”
“There is a real opportunity to make use of Twitter streams and other social media data to expedite public health, safety, or medical response in crises. Approaches to actively survey social media to complement traditional approaches to situation awareness after emergency events should be developed which integrate with existing analysis and alerting infrastructure.”
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