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What do citizens communicate about during crises?

Analyzing twitter use during the 2011 UK riots
: Gascó, Mila; Bayerl, Petra Saskia; Denef, Sebastian; Akhgar, Babak


Government information quarterly 34 (2017), No.4, pp.635-645
ISSN: 0740-624X
Journal Article
Fraunhofer IAO ()

The use of social media during crises has been explored in a variety of natural and man-made crisis situations. Yet, most of these studies have focused exclusively on the communication strategies and messages sent by crisis responders. Surprisingly little research has been done on how crisis publics (i.e., those people interested in or affected by the crisis) use social media during such events. Our article addresses this gap in the context of citizens' Twitter use during the 2011 riots in the UK. Focusing on communications with and about police forces in two cities, we analyzed 5984 citizen tweets collected during the event for content and sentiment. Comparing the two cases, our findings suggest that citizens' Twitter communication follows a general logic of concerns, but can also be influenced very easily by single, non-crisis related events such as perceived missteps in a police force's Twitter communication. Our study provides insights into citizens' concerns and communication patterns during crises adding to our knowledge about the dynamics of citizens' use of social media in such times. It further highlights the fragmentation in Twitter audiences especially in later stages of the crisis. These observations can be utilized by police forces to help determine the appropriate organizational responses that facilitate coping across various stages of crisis events. In addition, they illustrate limitations in current theoretical understandings of crisis response strategies, adding the requirement for adaptivity, flexibility and ambiguity in organizational responses to address the observed plurivocality of crisis audiences.