Twitter911: A Cautionary Tale
Researchers have argued that social media, and in particular, Twitter, can be searched to improve “situational awareness” in emergency situations; that is, to provide objective, actionable real-time information to first-responders. Prior studies have examined cases of very rare, catastrophic emergencies that took place over many days, such as the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. We asked instead if Twitter could pro- vide useful information for first-responders on a more regular basis, by conducting an exhaustive analysis of tweets and fire department data for medium-sized county (population 1 million), and for two larger-scale single-day emergencies in New York City. Our results are resoundingly negative: useful tweets were extraordinarily rare or nonexistence. This study provides a cautionary note as to the potential of Twitter and similar platforms for emergency situational awareness.