The Role Of Twitter In Climate Emergencies

İstanbul, Turkey - February 10, 2019: Woman using smart phone on a couch. The smart phone is an iPhone 8 displaying Twitter application.  iPhone is a touchscreen smartphone developed by Apple Inc.
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Climate change has contributed to extreme weather around the world, fueling an increased number of phenomena like deadly floods, uncontrollable bushfires, and frequent typhoons.

As extreme weather conditions unfold across the globe, people come to Twitter to talk about what’s happening, and the impact it has on them. Powered by social insights and analytics, these conversations can be harnessed to provide instant alerts, relief efforts, and assessment of the situation on ground.

Twitter provides companies and individuals with programmatic access to Twitter data through its public application programming interfaces (APIs), allowing them to build apps and tools for consumers to draw insights out of Twitter. Following the recent natural disasters including the Australian bushfires, Jakarta flooding in Indonesia, and Typhoon Hagibis in Japan, Twitter worked with its Official Partners Brandwatch, Peta Bencana and NTT Data respectively to help local communities understand trends in conversation data. In addition to using the service to share resources, raise funds and rally around one another, the Tweets create a wealth of social data that can be used to understand the issue of climate change and the crisis more broadly, while enabling policy makers to respond to future climate emergencies.

A sample of English-language Tweets from 2013 to 2020 indicated that mentions of “climate change” grew an average of 50% each year. These Tweets have proven to be powerful and influential as environmental activists use Twitter to raise awareness about the climate crisis, organise their communities, and connect with others passionate about protecting the planet.

“Twitter’s uniquely open service has been used by people all around the world to share and exchange information in times of crisis. We recognise our responsibility in ensuring that people can find the information they need especially during a national emergency, and have worked to amplify credible information from trusted media, government agencies, as well as relief and volunteer organisations during natural disasters, such as the Australian bushfires. We remain committed to empowering more people to play an active role in driving positive social change alongside our partners,” said Kara Hinesley, Director of Public Policy for ANZ at Twitter.

In collaboration with award-winning creative studio Design I/O, Twitter will unveil an interactive webpage to explore how conversations evolved on Twitter during each extreme weather event. The key moments are summarised as follows:

  • Before: Even before the natural disaster affects areas, people Tweet about things they notice in nature, like higher water levels, or drier and hotter-than-usual temperatures. People also Tweet about their preparations, such as readying their home or neighbourhood for a fire, or creating flood or hurricane defenses for critical structures.

  • During: As the extreme weather event begins to affect people, alarms start to raise on Twitter. At the apex of such events, conversations on Twitter spike the most as people Tweet about what they are experiencing in real-time.

  • After: At this time, the conversation on Twitter begins to shift towards humanitarian assistance like donation drives for supplies, rescue or medical assistance, and financial contributions to help people in the affected community.

“Developers consistently inspire us with the ways they support people in crisis during natural disasters. The #ExtremeWeather visualisation showcases what can be achieved when our developer and partner communities leverage the Twitter API and apply these insights to the public good. We hope this work sparks conversation, increases awareness and creates a connection between those passionate about climate change and disaster relief,” said Amy Udelson, Head of Marketing for the Twitter Developer Platform.

Australia’s September earthquake: Conversations and trends

When the earthquake struck, many turned to Twitter. There was an 82% increase in conversations around the earthquake, with many using the hashtags #earthquake and #melbourneearthquake to keep up with the conversation.

Australia Bushfires: Conversations, Trends, and Activations on Twitter

Before the global pandemic took hold in 2020, many in Australia were already contending with grave danger. Australians were faced with catastrophic bushfires especially in 2019/20. “The bushfire season started in winter and was the worst on record for New South Wales in terms of intensity, the area burned, and the number of properties lost. It was also the worst season on record for properties lost in Queensland.” (Climate Council, 2020).

Brandwatch, a Twitter Official Partner, analysed the conversations during this event on Twitter, including 2.8 million people around the world who engaged in conversations and nearly 10 million public Tweets relating to the bushfires from December 2019 to March 2020.

The data also showed how nearly 1 million conversations on Twitter (that’s 1 in 10 people Tweeting about the Australian Bushfire) from January 1, 2020 to March 31, 2020 discussed the native animals who were being injured, orphaned, or displaced. Koala rescue stories generated much attention, with over 620,000 mentions on Twitter, (making up nearly 73% of the wildlife impact conversation during that time).

By March 2020, around 845,000 Tweets related to the Australian Bushfire were talking about donating and fundraising to a variety of non-profit organizations for those affected by and fighting the fires. The world was watching, as mentions of fundraising from within Australia accounted for just 5% of overall fundraising conversation during this time.

People also used the service to connect in powerful ways. Communities united over mutual aid and fundraising efforts such as #AuthorsForFireys and the “Find a Bed” movement to find emergency accommodation for those displaced by the bushfires. Within a week of its activation, Find A Bed had accrued 7,000 listings and housed around 100 people, including a 104-year-old who lost her home.

In addition to that, in partnership with the Australian Red Cross, Twitter launched the natural disaster and emergency search prompt. When someone searches for certain key terms such as ‘bushfire’, ‘flooding’, or ‘cyclone’, a prompt at the top of the search result will direct them to Australian Red Cross resources and the organisation’s official Twitter account for up to date information.

“Staying up-to-date about emergencies is critical, whether that’s tuning into local radio or seeking updates on Twitter. In a flood, fire or cyclone, when you search on Twitter, you can now more easily find Red Cross updates to check your relatives are safe, or tips on getting prepared for example. Thanks Twitter for helping more Australians take steps to make themselves safer,” shared Andrew Coghlan, Australian Red Cross Head of Emergency Services.

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