Hashtag Takeovers during Crises and What to Do About It.

Thanks to John L. Hart
Thanks to John L. Hart

Today I attended a webinar put on by the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) to learn how to use social media better during a disaster. Host Jennifer Lazo (@JDLaszo) related an anecdote that I think is worth sharing:

During the Napa Earthquake last August, ISIS began posting graphic beheading pictures with the trending Napa earthquake hashtags as a way to put their message in front of the most people. Not only was that disturbing for victims searching for real-time information, but it hampered the responders’ ability to monitor Twitter (which we consider to be an important part of our response).*

Fortunately, there is a solution: geotagging. Here’s a quick primer:

1. If you are POSTING, Twitter geotags automatically, though some users have turned off this feature for privacy reasons. In fact, I too, usually keep my phone’s location turned off. If this is you, and you notice that the emergency hashtags are being overtaken by malicious users, you can help responders by re-allowing the geotagging software. If you turned off geotagging in Twitter’s settings, you’ll have to change the settings. If you have simply turned off your phone’s gps, you only have to turn it on again to reinstate geotags. Remember, once the crisis is over, you can turn it off again! No problem.

2. If you are SEARCHING, there are two ways to use geotagging to filter out foreign malicious users. Unfortunately there’s not much we can do to avoid local vandals short of ignoring them (they die in silence) and/or changing hashtags.

a. First, you can use Twitter’s in house search function. Type in your hashtag search in the search bar up top. On the results page, there will be an “Advanced Search” button to the top left. Click that to filter your search by location (and other things if applicable).

b. You can use geofeedia. This is the one that journalists and other pros use because it searches all of social media–not just Twitter. It’s super cool.

3. It also helps to identify and follow quality Tweeps before a disaster so you have access to accurate information at hand during a disaster. See my post about that here.

* Emergency Managers like to monitor Twitter and other social media sites for a variety of reasons: 1. for distress calls which have been known to be posted, 2. for greater situational awareness as citizens post damage reports, 3. to learn of and boost other agencies’ info, and 4. to answer questions and dispel rumors. 

Further Reading:

  • Geotagging Wiki — a bit technical in areas, but a good pro/con read
  • Geotagging with Google Earth — Google’s help page
  • Geotag — “an open source program that allows you match date/time information from photos with location information from a GPS unit or from a map”. I have no idea how good or bad this is, but for the pro citizen journalist, might be interesting?
  • GeoTag Photos Pro — another app. Not free, but supposedly works very well with Lightroom. I have no idea if it’s  awesome or not
  • Geotagging #Ferguson article — interesting to see how information spreads and how clever people can apply geotags.

Got any more information for us? Share below!


How to Find Quality Disaster Tweeps


Last week my Crisis Communications class looked at the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings as an example of government using Twitter effectively to communicate with the public. What I noticed most was that the author’s attributed Boston PD’s adept handling of social media to the fact that they had had a standing relationship with a Twitter audience already–long before the marathon even happened. Granted, their followers were fairly few, but when people flooded to their stream (heh, pun) they had the culture and infrastructure in place to handle the misinformation, the safety concerns, and the expectations of the public. [If you want to read what the academics are saying about the event a year later, check out these summaries of journal articles. Fascinating.]

All this prompted me to think about the public’s relationship with the government and how unusual it is to find a government (or sometimes even private business) entity that does Twitter well. As an Emergency Manager, part of my job is making sure people get warned about impending doom and more and more, people are getting warned through breaking news on Twitter. So I want to make sure that the information people get from their social networks is high quality information: useful, accurate, and timely. By the way, my textbooks tell me that according to a recent survey, about 80% of you expect someone to be monitoring Twitter during a disaster for distress calls. That’s an important expectation for us to respond to. I have a vested interest in making sure that the communication that happens over social media is effective and that the public develops a good relationship with high-quality informers BEFORE a disaster happens. Because after a disaster happens, we’re in the “fog of war”.

That’s a lot of build up to say that basically, I went forth onto the Great Information Highway and collected tips for you. Free of charge.

Finding good news sources before a disaster is critical.

How to Find Quality Disaster Tweeps: 

1. Twitter AlertsBefore you do anything, I want to talk about Twitter Alerts. Go to the  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) twitter page. These are the storm people. NOTICE: on the left side under the “Tweet to NOAA” button there’s a little statement that says “In times of crisis this account helps share critical information with Twitter Alerts. Be Prepared“. Accounts with that statement are top priority. If you’re only going to follow one person, make sure it’s a person with that statement. Click the Be Prepared link and Twitter will take you to a page that explains how Twitter Alerts works and allows you to sign up to get alerts from NOAA. It’s sorta like a mobile version of a reverse 911. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Ok… now when we talk about other accounts, watch for that little statement.

2. Quality Accounts. Here are a few people already doing a stellar job in the Twitterverse.

* Craig Fugate, FEMA Director. If you’re still thinking about the last director who some believe tanked the Hurricane Katrina response, don’t worry. This guy is new, experienced, and pretty hip. His site has cool new facts, FEMA programs (like this partnership with Disney’s Big Hero 6 movie), and a nation-wide/birds-eye view perspective.

* CDC Emergency Preparedness and Response. Remember the Zombie Apocalpyse Plan? That was these guys. This is their dedicated emergency account and right now they’re trying to reduce misinformation about Ebola. Good place to get quality epidemic news.

* Besides NOAA (above), you also might like the National Weather Service. They also provide information about storms and unexpected freezes.

* Bill Gates, entrepreneur/philanthropist. You never hear much news about Bill Gates anymore and that’s because he’s traveling all over the world doing work for his foundation. He just met with the House of Lords in England and Germany’s Chancelor,  Angela Merkel to garner support for Ebola aid in Africa–and more broadly–world health. I’m a huge fan of his work. You might like to follow him if you want a world-large perspective.

* I like Ready.gov ‘s account because it retweets from the Fire Department, National Guard, Homeland Security, and almost anyone else talking about preparedness. It’s nice because people like the Coast Guard don’t ONLY talk about preparedness, but when they do it’s important. So Ready.gov is like a filter for all the non-emergency news. They also have some content in Spanish. It might be a good starting place to see who else you like.

* FEMA en espanol. Pretty much the only Spanish-only Twitter Alerts I could find readily. If you know someone who speaks Spanish as a first language, send them here.

3. Local Accounts. How to find people near you.

In America, it’s the local authorities who are in charge of the disaster response (and the national authorities who send the money). When a disaster happens, you’ll want information from the people in your jurisdiction just like Bostonians wanted the BPD’s info. Here’s how to identify quality local accounts.

* WeFollow.com is a user-generated director that collects Twitter accounts into hashtags. Best of all, it displays them based on influence and/or follower counts so you can get an idea of who’s awesome on Twitter. Furthermore, the little search bar on the side lets you search by location so you can find quality people near you. Check out these Emergency Managers. Notice the grey bar at the very top suggests other key words to search with.

* Go to Craig Fugate’s Following list. Hit ctrl+F or find your browser’s search bar then type in your state’s name. He follows all the state’s Offices of Emergency Management, but they’re not all called the same thing, so it’s sometimes hard to find them. Chances are your state’s OEM (or EMD, SMEM, etc.) will be following local entities worth noting. For instance, my state’s –Washington Emergency Managment Division– follows the National Weather Service, Seattle branch.

*FEMA Regions. FEMA breaks up the country into regions and those regions have their own Twitter accounts. The posts often overlap with the national account, but they sometimes have good regional information like storm-specific preparedness tips (not a lot of Tornadoes in WA state.) or tribal news. Look at the map below to see which region you belong to then go find that account by searching Twitter’s search bar.

Find your state's FEMA region then follow that region's account on Twitter
Find your state’s FEMA region then follow that region’s account on Twitter

* Search your local city hall, state government, police/fire departments and anyone else you can think of to see if they’re on Twitter.

* Make sure their profile is fully filled out

* Determine how frequently they tweet. If they’re last tweet was a week ago, ditch them.

* Determine quality of tweets. Do they retweet relevant material? Do they balance their retweets with original content? (If they only retweet, they’re lazy. If they only post original content despite what everyone            else is talking about, they’re not good listeners and probably won’t be too helpful during an emergency) Do they participate in the conversation or do they treat their account like a bulletin board? Can you tell if              they’re responsive to other users?

* Who do they follow? Maybe it’s someone useful. Make sure they follow a wide range of relevant people. They shouldn’t be following everyone who follows them and they shouldn’t be too insulated by following           only people who they agree with.

4.  Preparedness accounts. Other honorable mentions. These people don’t necessarily post emergency updates, but they do talk about preparedness topics.

* Firewise Community. People who talk about wildfire preparedness.

* USGS Big Quakes. Talk about earthquakes around the world.

* National Hurricane Center.  One guess.

* National Weather Service Tornado Warnings.  If you look around, you’ll notice the NWS has lots of sub accounts that talk about one particular topic like tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.

* NOAA Communications. Interesting because it has lots of cool science stuff in it besides stuff related to health and safety.

Who did you find that’s worth our attention? Post it below!