Affording Twitter in Emergency Situations: The Occurrence of Rumor Sense-Making

Affording Twitter in Emergency Situations: The Occurrence of Rumor Sense-Making

Milad Mirbabaie (University of Bremen, Germany), Ireti Amojo (Freie Universität Berlin, Germany) and Stefan Stieglitz (University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany)
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/JDM.2021040104
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Abstract

This study focuses on Twitter affordances and sense-making outcomes during a single emergency situation. By using an interpretive affordance lens, this study aims to assess rumors as influencers of sense-making during the 2017 Manchester terrorist attack. The authors combined a quantitative network analysis with a qualitative content analysis to assess the role of rumors during the emergency management after the attack. This study provides argumentative grounds for the notion of sense-making as a consequence of affording social media and builds on prior research to place sense-making as a cognitive process within the affordance concept. The authors emphasize new potentials to prevent or control rumors on social media for practitioners and contribute insights to rumor research. Namely, the authors contribute a novel perspective of rumors and their role during emergency management on social media.
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Introduction

During emergency and pandemic management, such as the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic crisis or the 2017 Manchester terrorist attack, people use coping mechanisms to understand and gain control of a situation. Emergency management efforts to disseminate official statements during emergencies or discredit rumors on social media have become more important in recent years. Searching for information to clarify and make sense of uncertain situations is an important coping mechanism for affected audiences. Social media platforms (e.g. Twitter), which are characterized by their open accessibility and the distribution of user generated content, have become consistent sources of information during emergencies (Stieglitz et al., 2018). However, information retrieval during sudden and unexpected emergencies can be difficult (Coombs, 2010). At the same time, official information sources provided by governments or Emergency Management Agencies seldomly provide the needed real-time information to support sense-making processes (Alexander, 2013).

The concept of affordances provides a theoretical framework to explain and further assess social media use during emergencies. The affordance perspective allows a detailed assessment and delineation between the mere perception of social media features as enabling or restricting, their actualization, and respective outcomes (Strong et al., 2014). This article presents social media as a tool, which provides material features, that can be actualized to gather and exchange information about an incident (Mirbabaie & Zapatka, 2017), and thereby help users make sense of what is going on, as an outcome of the affordance. Accordingly, affordances will be used to provide the conceptual framework to explain the phenomenon of social media perception and feature actualization during emergency situations. Further, this article uses the affordance concept to contribute to knowledge of e.g. Emergency Management Agencies on affording social media to improve work practices. Affordances exist only in the relationship between technology materiality (i.e. features) and actor agency (i.e. goals for technology use). Accordingly, the affordance perspective allows a detailed assessment of how technology materiality and user action can influence cognitive processing (Mesgari & Okoli, 2018). Here, cognitive processing, which is a form of sense-making, explores cognition as a way for humans to apprehend the world during emergency situations or when they are at a loss for words to explain what is going on (Wong et al., 2013). Sense-making, includes cognitive processing to explain how humans align past experiences to current, highly complex situations to reduce uncertainty (Weick et al., 2005). The microblogging platform Twitter provides an ideal platform for sense-making as it is known for its quick diffusion of content because it restricts public messages to 280 characters (Mirbabaie & Zapatka, 2017). Research commonly focuses on how sense-making affects user action, rather than exploring how user action can affect sense-making (Mesgari & Okoli, 2019). In their article, the scholars highlight as general shortcomings in research:

The lack of technology materiality, the neglect of the discovery aspect of perception, and the lack of action orientation across technology sense-making research. (Mesgari & Okoli, 2019, p. 216)

Accordingly, this article uses an affordance perspective to understand sense-making processes, which can close the gap by providing both, perception and consequent technology actualization during technology use (Mesgari & Okoli 2019). Further, as pointed out by Werkhoven (2017), combining affordances and sense-making assessments will provide knowledge on the action potentials of social media and their enabling sense-making mechanisms and processes, which in turn informs practice on the impact and importance of social media use in emergency situations. Additionally, building on the literature-based findings of Mesgari and Okoli (2019), an empirical assessment of action-related perception and actualizations of social media (i.e. Twitter) during an emergency situation will be provided to understand the effects on sense-making. Accordingly, this article asks:

RQ: How does affording social media technologies during an emergency situation lead to sense-making and how does that inform practice-oriented emergency management?

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