Computer science researchers at CU-Boulder have been studying social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter not for the networking opportunities they offer, but for a much more serious reason: They want to know how people affected by an emergency employ the tools to collect and share information, and use that knowledge to build better tools for use by citizens and emergency responders.
Led by Associate Professor Leysia Palen, the CU group has studied the use of blogs, wikis, and Web 2.0 sites such as Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter in the aftermath of wildfires, hurricanes, school shootings, and other tragic events. These peer-to-peer communication tools, although they have shortcomings, have helped people to collect and share information with others affected by a crisis without having to depend solely on the reporting of news media.
Palen, along with her students and colleagues, are now developing a suite of specialized mobile and Web applications that will integrate information from multiple social media sources to help users assess the context, validity, source, credibility, and timeliness of the information generated by citizens during emergencies.
Ultimately, the researchers hope to develop tools that will make the information posted by citizens more accessible, comprehensible, and trustworthy, so that people can make safe decisions and coordinate with family, neighbors, and officials during times of crisis.
> See Project EPIC for more information