A cross-hazard analysis of terse message retransmission on Twitter


For decades, public warning messages have been relayed via broadcast information channels, including radio and television; more recently, risk communication channels have expanded to include social media sites, where messages can be easily amplified by user retransmission. This research examines the factors that predict the extent of retransmission for official hazard communications disseminated via Twitter. Using data from events involving five different hazards, we identity three types of attributes—local network properties, message content, and message style—that jointly amplify and/or attenuate the retransmission of official com- munications under imminent threat. We find that the use of an agreed-upon hashtag and the number of users following an official account positively influence message retransmission, as does message content describing hazard impacts or emphasizing cohesion among users. By contrast, messages directed at individuals, expressing gratitude, or including a URL were less widely disseminated than similar messages without these features. Our findings suggest that some measures commonly taken to convey additional information to the public (e.g., URL inclusion) may come at a cost in terms of message amplification; on the other hand, some types of content not traditionally emphasized in guidance on hazard communication may enhance retransmission rates.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences