How Twitter covered the Queensland floods

Matthew Liddy

Updated January 11, 2012 18:55:32

A new report reveals Twitter users sent more than 35,000 tweets using the #qldfloods hashtag between January 10 and January 16 last year, with official police media accounts and media outlets the most influential voices on the social media network.

The report finds the official Queensland Police Service account, @qpsmedia, was the most visible account in the #qldfloods discussion, and “played a leading role in disseminating timely and relevant information to the public, and in coordinating and guiding the wider discussion”.

One of the report’s authors, Axel Bruns, says social media was one of the few good news stories to emerge from the disaster, with emergency services using Twitter and Facebook to deliver “timely, informative, and level-headed updates on the flood crisis as it unfolded”.

The report is a project of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, and can be downloaded from the Mapping Online Publics website.

Following is a breakdown of the report’s key findings through its charts and graphs.

How many #qldfloods tweets?

People sent more than 35,000 tweets containing the #qldfloods hashtag between January 10 and January 16 last year.

Activity peaked around midday on January 11 at about 1,100 tweets per hour, as the Brisbane River began to burst its banks.

How many people were tweeting?

On January 12, nearly 7,000 Twitter users posted or retweeted at least one #qldfloods tweet.

More than 15,000 people tweeted using the hashtag over the timeframe of the study.

What type of tweets were being sent?

The report says there is a particularly high level of retweets during the early days of the crisis, as Twitter was being used to share breaking news of the latest event.

Throughout the events, between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of all #qldfloods messages contained links to further online information, including to official websites, news reports and eyewitness photos and videos.

Who were the key Twitter contributors?

Official emergency services accounts, in particular the @qpsmedia account, and media organisation accounts – including @abcnews – were the most visible participants in the #qldfloods discussion, partly because their messages were widely retweeted.

The chart below shows the most active contributors to the #qldfloods hashtag.

“A handful of #qldfloods participants account for a disproportionately high number of tweets,” the report notes.

However, the report notes more activity does not necessarily equate to more visibility and impact on Twitter.

“A better measure of visibility is whether such messages are replied to and/or retweeted by other users: from this, a clear group of important influencers emerges,” the report notes.

These can be seen clearly in the graph on #qldfloods visibility below.

“In the first place, we again see a pronounced ‘long tail’ distribution even amongst the 25 most visible accounts: the Queensland Police Service’s @QPSMedia account, as well as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s @abcnews and Brisbane-based metropolitan newspaper @couriermail are notable leaders,” the report says.

The role of the most influential Twitter accounts on the Queensland floods discussion is seen in the network visualisation below.

Here’s how the report explains what is going on:

“Here, we indicate the reach of five leading #qldfloods accounts by marking the extent to which other #qldfloods users have retweeted their messages or @replied to them. The overall network graph (in grey) shows retweet and @reply connections between all users participating in #qldfloods. Superimposed onto this graph are retweets of and @replies to @QPSMedia (in blue), @abcnews (in orange), @couriermail (in red), @sunriseon7 (in purple) and @612brisbane (in green).”

“From this depiction of their reach throughout the #qldfloods network, it becomes immediately evident that a substantial number of #qldfloods users have drawn on information provided by these accounts,” the report notes.

“Their retweets, in turn, would have reached an even larger percentage of the Australian Twittersphere.

“At the same time, the large number of @reply and retweet connections which remain grey in this map (that is, which connect users other than these five leading accounts) also serve as an important reminder that while ‘official’ accounts are important during crisis events, a substantial amount of communicative work continues to be carried out by everyday users, alongside and independent of the activities of key services.

“While it is appropriate to applaud emergency and media services which perform well during natural disasters, the role of these volunteers in covering and responding to the crisis should not be underestimated.”

What were people sharing on Twitter?

The report’s authors examined the top 50 domains being shared according to their primary source and purpose, and found that image and video sharing accounted for the largest share.

The study split all #qldfloods tweets into categories depending on the type of content they contained. The graph below shows how the pattern of tweets changed over time.

What was the @qpsmedia account used for?

The report also analyses how messages sent by and to the official police media account, @qpsmedia, differed from the overall #qldfloods hashtag. Information sharing was the major focus of the official account.

What types of messages were retweeted?

The report finds that across the tweet categories, those containing the most immediately important information are also the most widely retweeted.



First posted January 11, 2012 14:56:04

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