New Project: Mass Convergence of Attention During Crisis Events

Mass Convergence of Attention During Crisis Events

Emma S. Spiro (PI). (07/2015-06/2018) Army Research Office Young Investigator Program: $150,000.00.

Abstract: When crises occur, including natural disasters, mass casualty events, political and social protests, etc., we observe potentially drastic changes in social behavior. Local citizens, emergency responders and aid organizations flock to the physical location of the event. Global onlookers turn to communication and information exchange platforms to seek and disseminate event-related content. This social convergence behavior, long known to occur in offline settings in the wake of crisis events, is now mirrored – perhaps enhanced – in online settings. This project looks specifically at the mass convergence of public attention during crisis events. Viewed through the framework of social network analysis, mass convergence of attention onto individual actors can be conceptualized in terms of degree dynamics. This project employs a longitudinal study of social network structures in a prominent online social media platform to characterize instances of social convergence behavior and subsequent decay of social ties over time, across different actors types and different event types. The goal of the research activity is to quantify the frequency and magnitude of degree spikes and to determine the functional form of the subsequent tie decay. A better understanding of these social processes has both theoretical and practical implications. One can evaluate existing and develop new theories of individual and group behavior during collective stress situation. Such work could also directly impact response and recovery strategies potentially reducing human and economic losses, and mitigating long-term damage to disaster affected communities.