Beki Grinter

Twitter and Earthquakes: Haiti, Chile, and now Baja California Mexico

In C@tM, computer science, empirical, HCI, research, social media on April 4, 2010 at 9:52 pm

As many of you know there’s been another large Earthquake, this time in Baja California Mexico. Original estimates were that it was a 6.9 magnitude earthquake (it has been revised to 7.2 by the USGS and I read reports of 7.4 from Twitter now). I was in Irvine when Northridge occurred, so first and foremost and as always my thoughts go out to those who went through it.

It’s inevitable that comparisons will be drawn. They were between Chile and Haiti’s earthquakes, the difference in responses and so forth. Hopefully, if one thing good can come out of a large earthquake is that it teaches us what we need to respond better and more effectively to the next one.

I have a smaller question, which focuses on the role of social media, I’ve blogged about my perceptions of the social media use in response to the Chile earthquake here. I’m finding it harder, personally, to find the streams on twitter associated with this latest Earthquake. Interesting to me since it happened to be felt in a place that’s very technologically enabled, Southern California (reports of tall buildings swaying in San Diego for example).

So my questions are as follows:

  1. How do the uses of various media streams, facebook, twitter, etc… vary according to the different earthquakes? I know that my colleagues at Colorado are working to try and unify the syntax of the responses to aid in search and rescue, but I’m also curious about the volume of responses and the mediums used. Why? Because I think we can understand the cultural differences in social media uptake through these sorts of events, and I think that’s not just an important and interesting research question, but also a crucial piece of the puzzle for understanding how to respond.
  2. Are there differences in how people use them? Again, turns on cultural concerns. I know we have a strong focus on the basics. Where are my friends and family? Where can I get food and water? What is the whole situation? But, what if any completely local responses are important? I recently watched a program that focused on recovery efforts in Haiti and included discussion of the role of voodoo leaders in shaping some people’s understanding of what had happened. I know what you’re thinking, yes, it pertains to some of the research that Susan Wyche does. Yes, that’s true, but it’s also important to understanding how to frame response, who might be involved, what the parameters of culturally appropriate action and interaction are… and surely that’s got to matter.

I am sure that there are better and more questions to ask. These are mine as I watch a few twitter streams counters go up, but so slowly in comparison with Chile. Of course it was said then that Chile had really taken to twitter, and now just from my sample (I sampled hashtags I could find, but of course that includes at this point several hundred different individuals and institutions…).

And so my thoughts are mostly with the people of Mexico and California. But my thoughts are also with the people of crisis informatics and my colleagues in Colorado. They have so much to do, so many possibilities, and why do I think also a sleepless night tonight while they gather data and begin their process of tweaking the tweet once again.

  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by beki70: are there culturally specific patterns of twitter usage in response to disaster? #earthquake #mexicali #sandiego

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