Uses of Twitter as an alert system

I was recently asked by an acquaintance if there is a public compendium of the use of Twitter as a warning or alert system. I asked around within Twitter and several colleagues gave many useful pointers and tidbits. Since I could not find any public compendium, I thought I will create one from these responses. Please note that there is nothing official about this compendium, and it is most likely incomplete right now. Also, it is likely to get stale quickly though I will appreciate comments and help from anyone reading to keep this as inclusive as possible.

One important thing to note at the outset is that Twitter should not be solely relied upon as an emergency alert system. Twitter is still a new platform, and while it aims for high reliability, it is of course not (yet) 100% reliable. Hence, it should at best be used in addition to other warning systems.

Some illustrative Twitter accounts

Here are some examples of Twitter accounts used to provide alerts or warnings.

Other applications of Twitter

Other studies of use of Twitter and social media in crises

  • A report by Red Cross in August 2010. This was produced after a summit held by Red Cross, called “Emergency Social Data Summit”.
  • Analysing tweets was suggested to have been a quicker way of detecting and tracking the deadly cholera outbreak in Haiti than traditional methods, according to a study reported here.
  • Computer science researchers have systematically analyzed the problem of event detection using tweets as sensors. For instance, check out this publication titled “Earthquake shakes Twitter users: real-time event detection by social sensors.”

Work by Twitter itself in the area

Twitter, the company, has an “Ads for Good” program that gives away a quarter of a million dollars every year in pro-bono ads. 10K per month of these are given as both pre-emptive and post emergency critical tweets.

In 2010, Twitter partnered with one of Haiti’s leading wireless carriers, Voila, to allow users to get SMS upates from the @kwawouj twitter account.


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