The Science Behind Tweeting in Times of Crisis

When tragedy struck on 9/11, Jeannette Sutton was a graduate student. She remembers receiving the same calls as many others did—“Turn on your TV.” But shortly after, she received another call that would change the trajectory of her career and research path.

The call, from her department chair, was an opportunity for scholars on her campus interested in doing research in response to the terrorist attacks. She was instructed to put together a proposal, “because we’re sending teams into the field as soon as it’s safe.”

Today Sutton, the director of the UK Risk and Disaster Communication Center, is helping transform the ways crises are communicated in real-time on social media—focusing on messaging about disasters and other public safety concerns on Twitter.

She has studied and reported on the use of Twitter by officials following the Boston Marathon attacks and the 2012 Colorado wildfires. For the past several years, Sutton and her research team have been collecting and analyzing millions of tweets.

Watch the video to learn what makes people more likely to share a message in an emergency and how Sutton’s research can help us stay safe.