#Sandy: Twitter activity could be more accurate than government data for mapping hurricane damage

twitter proves accurate for hurricane mappyinf state of the web sandy fl
When you need to check on the status of a natural disaster, where do you get the latest news? The weather channel? Emergency broadcasts? Radio? Any number of weather-tracking apps or websites? You may be surprised that some of the best information can be found on social media. Researchers at Australia’s National Information and Communications Technology Research Centre of Excellence in Melbourne set out to study the impact of social media apps such as Twitter for mapping damage, according to a post from Science Magazine.

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy was classified as a large low-pressure system over the south waters of Cuba. Five days later, it was recorded as one of the largest hurricanes in history, charging up the east coast of the United States and leaving people stranded and without power. The government was hard-pressed to decide how to best send out its cleaning crews — what areas were most in need? Who required emergency supplies and services?

Inaccurate mapping during Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina delayed hurricane response by weeks and months. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) typically observes the storm itself, the local geography in its path, and infrastructure to form models. It then puts planes in the air to add details to the maps. The agency came under criticism for its slow response to Katrina victims.

Yuru Kryvasheyeu, a computational physicist, led a team to study real-time events through tweets and then create a map. First, the team had to acquire the data. This proved tricky, as researchers are hesitant to trigger legal action by using data from companies like Twitter, which opened its full archive to academics in 2014. Kryvasheyeu navigated this hurdle by buying just a subset of data from a third party company that collects, processes, and resells data from Twitter. The team narrowed down its search all the tweets in the world from between October 15 and November 12, 2012, which includes the time just before the hurricane hit and some days after it dissipated. Further refinement was acheived by setting the search to tweets that include words like “hurricane,” “Sandy,” “frankenstorm,” and “flooding.”

Many tweets did include the user’s location, but for those that did not, the team analyzed those accounts and message contents to get the missing information. Researchers mapped out nearly 10 million tweets from over two million accounts.

It was discovered that the closer people were to the hurricane, the more they tweeted about it. So while the results weren’t completely random, they must also be taken with a grain of salt. How much does the number of tweets reflect on the actual destruction from the event? Local media thrives on instilling fear in its small audience, and this could have added to the increase in social activity. To mitigate this, researchers turned to FEMA and the state governments of New York and New Jersey to get an official rundown of the damage.

When compared, the results of the Twitter study showed promise. The more actual damage sustained by Sandy in a local area (as measured by the cost of repairs), the more its residents tweeted. Surprisingly, Twitter itself was a bit more accurate than FEMA when it came to predicting the location and degree of damage from the storm.

We must still exercise caution, as social media in general has its own limitations and problems with accurate data. “Twitterbots” are programs that repeat the most popular tweets and reply to legitimate tweets, and these must be taken into account. However, Urbano Franca, a health researcher at Harvard Medical School says that the researchers here “seem to have though of most, if not all, issues and potential loopholes.” He suggests that other social media platforms such as Facebook, be studied next, though getting to that data might not be easy.

Emerging Tech

Astronomers surprised to find deep lakes of methane on Titan

In the two years since the Cassini probe burned up in Saturn's rings, data from its recordings is still being analyzed. The latest research has shown that Saturn's largest moon, Titan, hosts deep liquid lakes of methane on its surface.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in March, from Buster Scruggs to Roma

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Emerging Tech

Feast your eyes on the wildest, most elaborate Rube Goldberg machines ever built

Want to see something totally mesmerizing? Check out several of the best Rube Goldberg machines from across the internet, including one that serves cake and others that do ... nothing particularly useful.
Business

Buying airline tickets too early is no longer a costly mistake, study suggests

When you book can play a big role in the cost of airline tickets -- so when is the best time to book flights? Earlier than you'd think, a new study suggests. Data from CheapAir.com suggests the window of time to buy at the best prices is…
Social Media

Looking to officially rid your inbox of Facebook messages? Here's how

Deleting messages from Facebook Messenger is almost as easy as scrolling through your News Feed. Here, we show you how to delete an entire conversation or a single message, both of which take seconds.
Social Media

LinkedIn: Now you can express love, curiosity, and more with new Reactions

LinkedIn is following in the footsteps of Facebook (three years later!) with the rollout of new reactions that give users more ways to express themselves when responding to posts in their feed.
Social Media

Twitter’s experimental Twttr app is even more popular than the real thing

Twttr, the new app that lets regular Twitter users test new features, is proving more popular than the main app, according to the company. The revelation suggests some of the innovations may land for all Twitter users soon.
Social Media

Messenger and Facebook, together again? Facebook tests integrating chats

Longing for the old days where Facebook and Messenger were one app? Facebook is testing an integrated chat option. While Messenger remains more feature-rich, the test brings some chat functionality back into the Facebook app.
Social Media

How to download Instagram Stories on iOS, Android, and desktop

Curious about how to save someone's Instagram Story to your phone? Lucky for you, it can be done -- but it does take a few extra steps. Here's what you need to know to save Instagram Stories on both iOS and Android.
Social Media

Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp went down worldwide for 2 hours this morning

Chaos erupted on the internet this morning, as Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp all went down from 6:30 a.m. to approximately 9 a.m. Thousands of users were unable to access the sites or send or receive Whatsapp messages.
Mobile

Skype screen sharing for mobile will let you share your swipes on dating apps

Skype is prepping the launch of screen sharing for mobile so you can share your swipes on dating apps, shop with buddies, or, perhaps, show a PowerPoint presentation to coworkers. It's in beta just now, but anyone can try it.
Social Media

Facebook toys with mixing Stories and News Feed into one swipeable carousel

Facebook's News Feed could look a lot like Stories if a prototype the social media giant is working on rolls out to users. The design change mixes Stories and News Feed posts into a full-screen slideshow that users swipe left to navigate.
Social Media

No more moon showers as Facebook Messenger’s dark mode gets official rollout

Facebook Messenger launched a dark mode last month, but to activate it you had to message the crescent moon to someone. Now it's been rolled out officially, and it can be accessed in a far more sensible way — via settings.
News

Twitter has revealed a launch date for its handy hide replies features

Twitter has revealed a launch date for a feature that lets users hide replies to their tweets. The hope is that it will help the original poster filter out offensive or irrelevant content from conversation threads.