Warning Tweets: Serial Transmission of Warning Messages During a Disaster Event


Serial transmission – the passing on of information from one source to another – is a phenomenon of central interest in the study of informal communication in emergency settings. Microblogging services such as Twitter make it possible to study serial transmission on a large scale and to examine the factors that make retransmission of messages more or less likely. Here, we consider factors predicting serial transmission at the interface of formal and informal communication during disaster; specifically, we examine the retransmission by individuals of messages (tweets) issued by formal organizations on Twitter. Our central question is the following: How do message content, message style, and public attention to tweets relate to the behavioral activity of retransmitting (i.e. retweeting) a message in disaster? To answer this question, we collect all public tweets sent by a set of official government accounts during a 48-hour period of the Waldo Canyon wildfire. We manually code tweets for their thematic content and elements of message style. We then create predictive models to show how thematic content, message style, and changes in number of Followers affect retweeting behavior. From these predictive models, we identify the key elements that affect public retransmission of messages during the emergency phase of an unfolding disaster. Our findings suggest strategies for designing and disseminating messages through networked social media under periods of imminent threat.

Information, Communication, and Society