Social media in emergency management: Twitter as a tool for communicating risks to the public

Research paper by Panos Panagiotopoulos, Julie Barnett, Alinaghi Ziaee Bigdeli, Steven Sams

Indexed on: 06 Jul '16Published on: 01 Jul '16Published in: Technological Forecasting and Social Change


One of the main challenges of emergency management lies in communicating risks to the public. On some occasions, risk communicators might seek to increase awareness over emerging risks, while on others the aim might be to avoid escalation of public reactions. Social media accounts offer an opportunity to rapidly distribute critical information and in doing so to mitigate the impact of emergencies by influencing public reactions. This article draws on theories of risk and emergency communication in order to consider the impact of Twitter as a tool for communicating risks to the public. We analyse 10,020 Twitter messages posted by the official accounts of UK local government authorities (councils) in the context of two major emergencies: the heavy snow of December 2010 and the riots of August 2011. Twitter was used in a variety of ways to communicate and manage associated risks including messages to provide official updates, encourage protective behaviour, increase awareness and guide public attention to mitigating actions. We discuss the importance of social media as means of increasing confidence in emergency management institutions.

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