Your policy and plans will guide your actions and decision-making during the disaster. In this section, we will explore some processes and procedures for successfully identifying social media intelligence during disasters.
In the context of this course, collecting data refers to collecting various kinds of information around specific events. The types of data to collect are driven by the scope, magnitude, complexity, and type of disaster. These factors in turn influence the types of data you or your organization may be assigned to collect.
Similarly, the approach you take to collect the data is also driven by the type of disaster and your specific data collection assignment. For example, you could be assigned to collect:
You can collect social media content:
During Hurricane Sandy, many people were posting personal information on social media, such as:
Collecting these types of data helped inform the disaster workforce, decision makers, and others throughout the disaster.
A disaster information specialist can use these approaches to gather social media posts and save the information to a data repository. This repository could be as simple as a word processing document or a spreadsheet, for example, or something more complex such as a commercial, off-the-shelf data aggregation tool.
Regardless of the method, the searches will retrieve a large quantity of unverified content. This collecting of data is the first step to social media intelligence.
You should analyze the source and data of the social media content you have collected with skepticism and discipline.
Authoritative data has been collected, analyzed, and verified for accuracy before disseminating to the public. Data from an authoritative source, especially one with which you have an established relationship, can usually be considered authoritative data.
Authoritative data may originate from non-authoritative sources. The key is accuracy, verification, and validation.
As illustrated in the following graphic, there are many more non-authoritative social media messages than authoritative. Additionally, there is less data integrity with non-authoritative messages than with authoritative messages.
Non-authoritative Social Media Data
More messages, less data integrity
Authoritative Social Media Data
Fewer messages, greater data integrity
Sometimes, the information we find comes from the general public or from an unfamiliar source. When checking the validity of content from an unknown or non-authoritative source, ask yourself:
Earlier in the course, we mentioned the "CRAP test," which can be used to evaluate your sources.
Refer to your content verification checklist, created in the planning phase.
Ask the following questions during analysis of the unverified social media content you have collected. These questions may look familiar. You will want to ask similar questions about unfamiliar sources.
In addition, check in with yourself and your team periodically to ensure you are being as productive as possible:
As discussed earlier in the course, we recommend maintaining a living document to record pertinent information and categories. One of the categories should be a list of all the sources you use in authenticating the validity of the social media content. This may be used in the future, for example in creating an After Action Report, holding a hot wash, or writing Executive Summaries.
Malicious and/or false content is an unfortunate, yet inevitable reality when dealing with social media. As mentioned previously, even well-intentioned sources occasionally share misinformation.
Consider the following Twitter post, in which a user with established credibility and many followers chose to knowingly create and disseminate false information about Hurricane Sandy. There are at least three areas of potential concern that should cause us to question the validity of this social media content.
Select each i icon in the example to see more about the cause for concern:
There are at least three areas of potential concern in this example:
Also during Hurricane Sandy, several other fictitious or falsified photos were widely disseminated on social media, both by naïve, well-intentioned users and those who did so knowingly, perhaps with a sense of humor. Consider these examples:
Example 1: Photo of a subway station that has been manipulated to look like it was underwater
Example 2: Falsified photo intended to look like a screenshot of a live newsfeed of water rising above the Statue of Liberty
When it comes to image verification, you have two options:
Remember: skepticism and discipline are key.
There are tools that may help verify the validity of images. Some online tools have reverse image search capability, which helps identify when, where, and by whom an image has been previously shared.
Practice what was described in the Planning section—that is, answer the questions: what, when, where, why, and how (Kovach and Rosenstiel, 2010).
Create, document, and share a data collection process early on. Team members come and go, especially volunteers, and this will save time.
Ensure that your data collection process has space for capturing lessons learned, and encourage the team to make notes in the moment. It is much more difficult to recall them after the incident.
Take a step back periodically, and assess if you:
Make adjustments accordingly. Enhance and tailor your search terms; fine-tune your list of sources. Consider adding previously unknown sources that have a heavy presence during the disaster and provide valuable, credible information. There is no perfect time to make this assessment and no required minimum or maximum number of assessments.
The information gathered and analyzed is now disseminated. For the purposes of this course, the focus is on dissemination to the response efforts.
If you are providing assistance to an official agency, the information that has been analyzed and verified must be consolidated into a format from which the decision-maker can easily glean key information.
It is important to standardize information flows and formats (internal & external stakeholder) for both the collaborative working documents and the final product for the stakeholder. Build a common operating picture for your team showing the overall goals that includes team member comprehension as well as understanding for the projected mission assignment length.
Dissemination of the analysis could be in the form of a situation report. For example, see the situation report that Humanity Road issued during Hurricane Irma, specific to Florida. Learn more about a variety of tools that were used to disseminate information.
Internal communication is an important element in the process of social media situational awareness.
Typically, an after-action report, sometimes called a "hot wash" or "lessons learned," is generated through a process of reviewing records and consulting the key people involved. No response is ever perfect, and there is always something to learn (CDC, 2014).
Activity: Knowledge Check
During the disaster, the first step in social media intelligence is to:
Which of these statements is not true about analyzing the data you have collected?
In this section, we covered the following main points: