Promoting Situation Awareness: Usability of a Social Media Tool for Journalists and Crisis Managers

Promoting Situation Awareness: Usability of a Social Media Tool for Journalists and Crisis Managers

Klas Backholm (Åbo Akademi University, Vasa, Finland), Joachim Högväg (Åbo Akademi University, Vasa, Finland), Jenny Lindholm (Åbo Akademi University, Vasa, Finland), Jørn Knutsen (The Oslo School of Architecture and Design/Voy, Oslo, Norway) and Even Westvang (Bengler AS, Oslo, Norway)
DOI: 10.4018/IJISCRAM.2018010103
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Crisis communicators and journalists need stable structures to handle social media content in emergencies, but struggle with information overload. The usability of a tool intended to support information gathering was investigated by conducting two usability tests (low- and high-fidelity prototypes) with journalists. The aims were to investigate how well the design reflected users' general mental models of emergency work, and how it responded to the specific requirements set by work in high-stress surroundings. Tests were conducted in a laboratory. Participants understood the main prototype concepts, but struggled with time-consuming tasks, for instance, those related to saving content or evaluating information quality. To provide good situation awareness - and to fit in with user expectations - a system should gather information from several social media outlets and allow for varying possible user modes. However, system designers need to carefully balance between including necessary features and avoiding tasks that require complex manual actions.
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A rampage truck attack, a devastating earthquake, or a sudden flooding - during an emergency1, information about the ongoing event is spread rapidly through a complex network of interacting communication channels (Latonero & Shklovski, 2011; Simon, Goldberg, & Adini, 2015). Via social media such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, content is posted and may be merged with new facts or rumors. Parts of this information are integrated into traditional mass media products or forwarded by direct interpersonal communication or reposted in social media in new forms. Soon, it becomes difficult for crisis communicators to handle the vast amount of content and estimate the trustworthiness of seemingly central information (Eriksson, 2012). This may have serious effects on the perception of a situation and undermine a deeper understanding of the problem; or even cause additional emergency damage (Coombs, 2015).

Technical systems can provide support for crisis communicators who need to handle vast information flows in emergencies (Ruggiero & Vos, 2014). However, gathering social media with such systems is a complex process, requiring an understanding of data discovery, collection, preparation and analysis (Imran, Castillo, Diaz, & Vieweg, 2015; Stieglitz, Mirbabaie, Ross, & Neuberger, 2018). In this study, the work behind developing the prototypes of a new tool to support the gathering of social media information is presented (Sections 4-7). The tool is intended for users who work professionally with gathering crisis-related information, such as authorities, first response rescuers, NGOs, and news organizations.

The tool itself was designed with a user-centered approach, the aim being to optimize it according to how users can, want, or need to use it (ISO 9241, 2010; Wallach & Scholz, 2012). The main focus of this article is to investigate the usability of two prototypes of this tool (Sections 5-6). The results from the usability tests conducted in a laboratory setting with one intended user group, news journalists, are presented. The sample was limited to journalists as the prototype developer wished to work with one clearly defined group during the first parts of the development process.

This study investigates how well the prototype tools fit in with journalists’ existing mental models, and how the design should be improved to both support work tasks and an overall awareness of an unfolding emergency (Sections 2-3, 7). This study contributes to the field of IT support for emergency management by providing knowledge on how to design social media information gathering systems that reflect the specific requirements set by emergencies and emergency-related communication practices.

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