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Dynamics of information distribution on social media platforms during disasters

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When preparing for and responding to disasters, humanitarian organizations must run effective and efficient supply chains to deliver the resources needed by the affected population. The management of humanitarian supply chains include coordinating the flows of goods, finances, and information.

When preparing for and responding to disasters, humanitarian organizations must run effective and efficient supply chains to deliver the resources needed by the affected population. The management of humanitarian supply chains include coordinating the flows of goods, finances, and information. This dissertation examines how humanitarian organizations can improve the distribution of information, which is critical for the planning and coordination of the other two flows. Specifically, I study the diffusion of information on social media platforms since such platforms have emerged as useful communication tools for humanitarian organizations during times of crisis.

In the first chapter, I identify several factors that affect how quickly information spreads on social media platforms. I utilized Twitter data from Hurricane Sandy, and the results indicate that the timing of information release and the influence of the content’s author determine information diffusion speed. The second chapter of this dissertation builds directly on the first study by also evaluating the rate at which social media content diffuses. A piece of content does not diffuse in isolation but, rather, coexists with other content on the same social media platform. After analyzing Twitter data from four distinct crises, the results indicate that other content’s diffusion often dampens a specific post’s diffusion speed. This is important for humanitarian organizations to recognize and carries implications for how they can coordinate with other organizations to avoid inhibiting the propagation of each other’s social media content. Finally, a user’s followers on social media platforms represent the user’s direct audience. The larger the user’s follower base, the more easily the same user can extensively broadcast information. Therefore, I study what drives the growth of humanitarian organizations’ follower bases during times of normalcy and emergency using Twitter data from one week before and one week after the 2016 Ecuador earthquake.

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Date Created
2018