Social media, including Facebook and Twitter, played an important role in crisis communication at the height of the 2011 South East Queensland floods crisis (10-16 January). This report examines the role of the short-messaging system Twitter in disseminating and sharing crisis information and updates from state and local authorities, as well as everyday citizens. We assess the overall use of Twitter, as well as that of the most important emergency service account, the Queensland Police’s @QPSMedia account.

Key overall findings:

  • The Twitter hashtag #qldfloods quickly became the central coordinating mechanism for floods-related user activity on Twitter. Hashtags are a user-generated tool for marking specific messages as relating to a particular topic or theme.
  • More than 35,000 tweets containing the #qldfloods hashtag were sent during the period of 10-16 January; more than 11,600 of them on 12 January alone (the height of the flooding in Brisbane). More than 15,500 Twitter users participated in #qldfloods.
  • Due to the sociodemographic factors, attention was mainly focussed on the situation in Brisbane and Ipswich, the major population centres affected.
  • Twitter is used in important ways to find and disseminate information. 50-60% of #qldfloods messages were retweets (passing along existing messages, and thereby making them more visible); 30-40% of messages contained links to further information elsewhere on the Web.
  • During the crisis, a number of Twitter users dedicated themselves almost exclusively to retweeting #qldfloods messages, acting as amplifiers of emergency information and thereby increasing its reach.
  • #qldfloods tweets largely managed to stay on topic and focussed predominantly on sharing directly relevant situational information, advice, news media and multimedia reports.
  • Emergency services and media organisations were amongst the most visible participants in #qldfloods, especially also because of the widespread retweeting of their messages.
  • Leading accounts included the Queensland Police Service Media Unit (@QPSMedia), ABC News (@abcnews), and the Courier-Mail (@couriermail). @QPSMedia, in particular, received some 25 retweets for each of its messages, significantly amplifying its audience reach.
  • Twitter both drew on and became a source for mainstream media. Social media users around the world shared a wide range of flood-related media resources via Twitter. Meanwhile, users closer to the site of the disaster shared their own experiences and observations, often by including photographs and videos in their tweets.
  • More than one in every five shared links in the #qldfloods dataset was to an image hosted on one of several image-sharing services; and users overwhelmingly depended on Twitpic and other Twitter-centric image-sharing services to upload and distribute the photographs taken on their smartphones and digital cameras.
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