Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Leysia Palen

Second Advisor

Aaron Clauset

Third Advisor

Clayton Lewis

Fourth Advisor

Jed Brubaker

Fifth Advisor

Mor Naaman

Abstract

Disasters arising from natural hazards are associated with breakdown of existing structures, but they also result in creation of new social ties in the process of self-organization and problem solving by those affected. This dissertation focuses on emergent forms of sociality that arise in the context of crisis. Specifically, it considers collaborative work practices, social network structures, and organizational forms that emerge on social media during disasters arising from natural hazards. Social media platforms support highly-distributed social environments, and the forms of sociality that emerge in these contexts are affected by the affordances of their technical features, especially those that more or less successfully facilitate the creation of a shared information space. Thus, this dissertation is organized around two important aspects of social media spaces: the availability of an explicitly-shared site of work and the availability of a visible, legible record of activity.

This dissertation investigates the forms of sociality that emerge during disasters in three social media activities: retweeting, crisis mapping in OpenStreetMap (OSM), and Twitter reply conversations. These three social media activities highlight various availability of an explicitly-shared site of work and visible record of activity. The studies of retweeting and reply conversations investigate the Twitter activity in response to the 2012 Hurricane Sandy—the second costliest hurricane in US history and the most tweeted about event to date at the time. Analysis of crisis mapping in OpenStreetMap—an open, editable, volunteer-based map of the world—focuses on the OSM activity after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which was the first major disaster event supported by OpenStreetMap. For these investigations, the dissertation elaborates and develops human-centered data science methods—a set of methodological approaches that both harness the power of computational techniques and account for the highly-situated nature of the social activity in crisis. Finally, the dissertation positions the findings from the three studies within the larger context of high-tempo, high-volume social media activity and highlights how the framework of the two intersecting dimensions of the shared information space reveals larger patterns within the emergent forms of sociality across contexts.

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