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Institutional vs. Non-institutional use of Social Media during Emergency Response: A Case of Twitter in 2014 Australian Bush Fire


Social media plays a significant role in rapid propagation of information when disasters occur. Among the four phases of disaster management life cycle: prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery, this paper focuses on the use of social media during the response phase. It empirically examines the use of microblogging platforms by Emergency Response Organisations (EROs) during extreme natural events, and distinguishes the use of Twitter by EROs from digital volunteers during a fire hazard occurred in Australia state of Victoria in early February 2014. We analysed 7982 tweets on this event. While traditionally theories such as World System Theory and Institutional Theory focus on the role of powerful institutional information outlets, we found that platforms like Twitter challenge such notion by sharing the power between large institutional (e.g. EROs) and smaller non-institutional players (e.g. digital volunteers) in the dissemination of disaster information. Our results highlight that both large EROs and individual digital volunteers proactively used Twitter to disseminate and distribute fire related information. We also found that the contents of tweets were more informative than directive, and that while the total number of messages posted by top EROs was higher than the non-institutional ones, non-institutions presented a greater number of retweets.

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Correspondence to Babak Abedin.

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Abedin, B., Babar, A. Institutional vs. Non-institutional use of Social Media during Emergency Response: A Case of Twitter in 2014 Australian Bush Fire. Inf Syst Front 20, 729–740 (2018).

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  • Social media
  • Twitter
  • Australian case study
  • Emergency response organisations
  • Community resilience