Three essays on the role of social media in social crises: A collective sensemaking view
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Flexible, mobile, and distributive social web technologies afforded online users with unprecedented opportunities to connect previously disconnected groups of people at a distance surrounding shared interests or common issues. Reflecting the opportunities opened by social web technologies, recent extreme events have exposed both positive and negative aspects of collective online behaviors in response to social crises. This dissertation extends the traditional literature on post-disaster collective behavior into the context of social web technologies, and develops notions of techno-social collective behavior, human-machine collaborative information processing, and collective sense-making. To do that, this dissertation explores collective online behavior which has been repeated during recent social crises (e.g., the Mumbai Terrorist Attack in 2008, the Toyota Recall in 2010, the Egypt Revolution in 2011, and the Seattle Café Shooting Incident in 2012 etc), and explicates the upside and downside of techno-social collective behavior and its technological and social implications. This dissertation comprises of three essays. The first essay looks at the downside of social media in the context of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. It uses Situation Awareness theory to identify antecedents of terrorists' opportunistic decision-making in the volatile and extreme environment of the terrorist attack. Specifically, it argues how situational information, which was broadcast through live media and Twitter, could contribute in enhancing the terrorists' opportunistic decision making process and, as a result, increased the effectiveness of hand-held weapons to accomplish their terrorist goals. To substantiate the argument, by utilizing the framework drawn from Situation Awareness theory, this study (1) analyzes the contents of Twitter postings on the Mumbai terrorist attack, and (2) illustrates the vulnerabilities of collective situation reporting through Twitter. In conclusion, based on the result of the content analysis, it presents a conceptual framework to deter and/or delay terrorists' decision-making process. The second essay explores the information quality issue of Twitter with the cases of three social crises: the Mumbai Terrorist Attacks in 2008, the Toyota Recall in 2010, and the Seattle Café Shooting Incident in 2012. Using rumor theory, I conceptualize the online users' collective tweeting behavior in response to social crises as collective information processing to make sense of, cope with, and adapt to uncertain external situation. This essay explores two interlocking issues of social crises: (1) under what condition does collective social reporting develop into a successful information processing to cope with crisis problems, and (2) under what condition does collective social reporting degenerate into rumor-mill. To answer these questions, I collect and analyze Twitter data for the Mumbai Terrorist Attack in 2008, the Toyota Recall in 2010, and the Seattle Café Shooting Incident in 2012. The result of the data analysis reveals that information with no clear source attached was the most important, personal involvement the next important, and anxiety the least yet still important, rumor causing factor in Twitter under social crisis situation. This essay concludes with a few suggestions to control rumor spread through social media during uncertain situation of social crises. The third essay explores the role of Twitter during the 2011 Egypt Revolution. To set the research framework, this essay first reviews how historians analyze the role of print technology during the Protestant Reformation in the early 16th century. Through this review, I argue that (1) revolutionary ideas (like Martin Luther's) cannot be revolutionary unless it is distributed, shared and supported by many others, and (2) efficient communication technologies are essential to distribute and share revolutionary ideas with a large number of supporting others. I argue that the historians' approach not only bears similarity with that of sociomateriality, but offers a useful angle to explicate the role of social media during the 2011 Egypt Revolution. Following the historians' approach and employing the sociomateriality perspective, I analyze retweet communication patterns to determine (1) how influential figures emerge among a multitude of online individuals, and (2) what are the implications of the emergence of those influential figures. With the results of the retweet data analysis, I argue that the collective retweeting practice during the Egypt Revolution can be understood as human-machine collaborative and collective information processing to extract and share reliable situational information as rapidly as possible out of millions of heterogeneous and chaotic real time tweets such that they can enhance the collective level of situational awareness and expand the boundary of shared understanding during the unfolding crisis situation. This provides important insights to anticipate imminent social changes.