The Role of Social Media in Times of Crisis

In the previous lecture of Human-Centered Research and Design in Crisis course, different approaches on how Instagram can be used by health agencies for crisis and emergency communication were discussed. Instagram with more than 112.5 million users, provides massive data sets to researchers. However, the use of the data shared online raises different practical and ethical questions.  During the lesson, I had the opportunity to look at a wider perspective on what these could be and the problems that might be encountered. Since 2006, the use of social media in the management of crises has attracted the attention of researchers (Reuter, Lee Hughes, Kaughold, 2018) The area of Crisis informatics “views emergency response as an expanded social system where information is disseminated within and between official and public channels and entities.” (Palen, Vieweg, Liu, Hughes, 2009, p.3).

Thinking framework, you can access to the Miro board here.

Crisis on today’s networked world practically requires a multi-sited approach (Palen, Vieweg, Sutton, Liu & Hughes, 2007).   Crisis informatics is a multidisciplinary area that combines computing and social science knowledge of disasters; its main principle is that people use personal information and communication technology to respond to disaster in creative ways to cope with ambiguity (Palen & Anderson, 2016).

Big data are commonly referred to as very large data sets, everything from genomes to galaxies including human behavior significantly, it has become widespread in the study of everything (Tufekci, 2014). Social media, which is mainly used as an interaction and communication tool, offers many data sets about people. In 2019, an estimated 2.95 billion people were using social media worldwide and it is anticipated that there will be an increase to almost 3.43 billion in 2023. These numbers might look terrifying. This means that by posting an 3 seconds Instagram story you can reach billions of people in an hour and something shared on Instagram can go inexplicably viral. The most important factor for me to choose this research subject is that social media has a lot of potential in research related to the management of crisis events and it is suitable for many studies as a rich resource.

Recently, one of the most popular social media websites, Facebook has launched the UK Covid-19 symptom survey to track the spread of the disease as a joint effort with Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Further, to eliminate the question marks regarding data privacy issues, Facebook said it would not have access to users’ health data but would simply pass it on to CMU. Many users are skeptical about the protection data protection in online environments. For this reason, one of the topics that the research focuses on is to improve user interaction and create a service where information is shared in a secure environment.

The scope of this project is to examine what alternative ways are in Human-Centred Research and Design in Crisis. In this context, I aim to examine how we can benefit from social media during the crisis and how can we develop services through social media for vulnerable residents. Furthermore, I research the upsides and downsides of social media in crisis management and what kind of services it can provide for vulnerable residents. Through this exploratory research, I would also like to examine different approaches of different generations to the Internet.

This research would require user-centric research and focus group analysis. However, due to time and current conditions, it will be considered as a design environment study. Within this study, different keywords will be discussed. The most important of these are the differences in social media dynamics and user interaction methods. As a result, I believe that I will gain a broader perspective on how people perceive social media in crisis management, what purpose they use and how they act in this process.

You can access to the Miro board here.


Palen, L., S. Vieweg, J. Sutton, S.B. Liu & A. Hughes (2007). Crisis Informatics: Studying Crisis in a Networked World. Third International Conference on e-Social Science, Ann Arbor, Michigan, October 7-9, 2007.

Palen, L., Vieweg, S., Liu, S. B., & Hughes, A. L. (2009). Crisis in a networked world: Features of computer-mediated communication in the April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech event. Social Science Computer Review, 27(4), 467–480.

Palen, L., & Anderson, K. M. (2016). Crisis informatics: New data for extraordinary times. Science, 353(6296), 224–225.

Reuter,  C., Lee Hughes., A. & Kaufhold., M. A. (2018) Social Media in Crisis Management: An Evaluation and Analysis of Crisis Informatics Research, International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction, 34:4, 280-294, DOI: 10.1080/10447318.2018.1427832

Tufekci, Z. (2014). Big Questions for Social Media Big Data: Representativeness, Validity and Other Methodological Pitfalls. In ICWSM ’14: Proceedings of the 8th International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media, 2014.

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