UWS launches study into social media use during natural disasters

The University of Western Sydney has set up an online survey to gauge how the public requests and receives information through traditional social media during natural disasters.  

The announcement:

March 18, 2011 –

A University of Western Sydney study will examine how people in natural disasters use social media like Facebook and Twitter to receive vital information and emergency assistance from authorities and the local community.

Social media expert Dr Gwyneth Howell, psychologist Dr Mel Taylor and psychiatrist Professor Beverley Raphael are conducting interviews and online research with people affected by the Queensland floods, Cyclone Yasi , the Western Australian bushfires, the New Zealand earthquakes and the recent disasters in Japan.

The researchers have conducted face-to-face interviews with people involved actively in administering and using community-based Facebook sites during emergencies, and have now set up an online survey to gauge how the public requested and received valuable information from both traditional and social media.

Dr Gwyneth Howell, from the UWS School of Communication Arts, is calling for people who have been impacted by the natural disasters to take the survey to help authorities better understand how to utilise social media in times of crisis.

“During an emergency many people will use Facebook or Twitter to get up-to date information, just as many people will go to the council or police websites to know what’s happening and what to do,” Dr Howell says.

“This survey aims to understand how information is being sought, provided, and used in emergencies. Those involved with emergency communications need to understand what people want and how to provide that in the best possible way. Our study enables those who used social media in recent emergency and disaster events to provide this feedback. Hopefully this data will
improve the quality of information provided in future events.”

Dr Mel Taylor, from the UWS Disaster Research and Response Group in the School of Medicine, says the study will characterise what sites people visited, how they found these sites, and how they might access social media to get help and to provide information.

“We also want to explore the psychosocial aspects of social media use in the disaster context by finding out people’s psychological motivation for using social media, and the contrasts between people who are seeking or providing information or asking for help,” says Dr Taylor.

The research team is keen to encourage anyone who has used social media in recent disaster events to participate by completing the online survey. The researchers are looking for both people who have been directly affected, as well as those who were concerned for family and friends in relation to recent events.

To complete the online survey go to http://tinyurl.com/4858c43

The “When a Crisis Happens who Turns to Facebook” study is supported by the University of Western Sydney, the Emergency Media and Public Affairs organisation and the Federal Attorney General’s Department.

Source: University of Western Sydney press release


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