What it Takes to Get Passed On: Message Content, Style, and Structure as Predictors of Retransmission in the Boston Marathon Bombing Response
Jeannette Sutton, C. Ben Gibson, Emma S. Spiro, Cedar League, Sean M. Fitzhugh, Carter T. Butts
Message retransmission is a central aspect of information diffusion. In a disaster context, the passing on of official warning messages by members of the public also serves as a behavioral indicator of message salience, suggesting that particular messages are (or are not) perceived by the public to be both noteworthy and valuable enough to share with others. This study provides the first examination of terse message retransmission of official warning messages in response to a domestic terrorist attack, the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013. Using messages posted from public officials’ Twitter accounts that were active during the period of the Boston Marathon bombing and manhunt, we examine the features of messages that are associated with their retransmission. We focus on message content, style, and structure, as well as the networked relationships of message senders to answer the question: what characteristics of a terse message sent under conditions of imminent threat predict its retransmission among members of the public? We employ a negative binomial model to examine how message characteristics affect message retransmission. We find that, rather than any single effect dominating the process, retransmission of official Tweets during the Boston bombing response was jointly influenced by various message content, style, and sender characteristics. These findings suggest the need for more work that investigates impact of multiple factors on the allocation of attention and on message retransmission during hazard events.
Jeannette Sutton, Emma S. Spiro, Britta Johnson, Sean Fitzhugh, Ben Gibson & Carter T. Butts
Serial transmission – the passing on of information from one source to another – is a phenomenon of central interest in the study of informal communication in emergency settings. Microblogging services such as Twitter make it possible to study serial transmission on a large scale and to examine the factors that make retransmission of messages more or less likely. Here, we consider factors predicting serial transmission at the interface of formal and informal communication during disaster; specifically, we examine the retransmission by individuals of messages (tweets) issued by formal organizations on Twitter. Our central question is the following: How do message content, message style, and public attention to tweets relate to the behavioral activity of retransmitting (i.e. retweeting) a message in disaster? To answer this question, we collect all public tweets sent by a set of official government accounts during a 48-hour period of the Waldo Canyon wildfire. We manually code tweets for their thematic content and elements of message style. We then create predictive models to show how thematic content, message style, and changes in number of Followers affect retweeting behavior. From these predictive models, we identify the key elements that affect public retransmission of messages during the emergency phase of an unfolding disaster. Our findings suggest strategies for designing and disseminating messages through networked social media under periods of imminent threat.