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Social media impacts after the earthquakes

University of Canterbury thesis looking at social media impacts after the earthquakes

August 24, 2014

A University of Canterbury PhD student is investigating the impact of social media following the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes.

Online social networks played a major role in disaster coverage among those affected. Social media has changed disaster response with the benefits of using Facebook and Twitter and other networks after emergencies as shown by the Student Volunteer army, founded by University of Canterbury students, media and communication PhD student Martina Wengenmeir.

The convergence of social networks and mobile phones has thrown the old response book out the window. Following the Boston marathon bombings last year, a quarter of Americans reportedly looked to Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites for information.

Drawing up an effective social media strategy and tweaking it to fit an emergency, however, is a new and crucial part of civil defence management preparedness planning.

The vast amount of pictures, stories and video content that pops up online after natural disasters, such as right after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, is often shared by normal people witnessing and experiencing the event from their own point of view.

``All different sorts of communications appear following a disaster. Online they are using social media to organise response, provide post-disaster information and community support, in both short and long-term recovery.

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``My study, supervised by Dr Zita Joyce, looks at the characteristics of online communication via social network sites around the Christchurch earthquakes, examining contents, interactions and motivations at different points in time.

``My thesis will finish about June 2016 and I aim to shed light on the motivations and structures of issue-based online public posts in long-term disaster recovery as well as the characteristics that make them thriving online communities even three years later.

``Online communities served as a matter of disaster response after the earthquakes to inform, discuss and share stories helping to raise community resilience. The fact the general public was engaged in sharing and publishing information after the quakes was helpful as official responses often take longer to be published.

``I will collect my data in different ways. On Facebook, I’ll be using the timeline function of public pages to go back in time to collect them manually. I am going to compare data from my Facebook sample with data from Twitter.’’

Wengenmeir was a finalist in the recent University of Canterbury three-minute thesis presentation event.

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