Know how your social media hashtags can help predict floods

Study reveals "social sensors" can be used alongside with the instrument-based systems to predict natural hazards.


Can social media help in stopping a natural calamity such as floods or earthquakes? A study which was recently published in the prestigious PLOS One journal seems to believe so. The study says social media platforms, like Flickr, can provide us with "social sensors" that can be used alongside with the instrument-based systems to predict and monitor all kinds of natural hazards.

The study believes that images which are being uploaded on social media are able to give a fresh eye insight to a geographical location rather than a data-heavy one from traditional methods. It also gives weight to the reactions, garnered from the situation, by taking into account the subsequent text, emojis and hashtags that have been assigned to it.

According to the study, "The recent proliferation of digital social media platforms have introduced a new and additional source of information to be taken into account when designing warning systems and planning their implementation."

Thus, how people are uploading images of a certain geographical location or tweeting about the bad weather during their trip can serve as an add-on to already present data through traditional means to form a correct premonition of when things can take an unexpected turn nature wise.

The study argues, "User generated content (UGC), i.e., any form of content such as blogs, wikis, discussion forums, posts, chats, tweets, images, video, audio files, etc., that is publically shared via social media platforms, is emerging as a valuable source of data for analyses requiring real-time insights into human behaviour, sentiment or mobility. At the same time and as a consequence of changing climate and increased urbanization, many countries are now exposed to an unprecedented number of natural hazards, which pose numerous threats to human health, life and economic development."

This could indeed be a new age method of working on natural disasters and an effective one. "There is therefore a need to look into how UGC, specifically its main characteristics of content, location and timestamps, can be used to enhance the capacity of natural environment monitoring systems to predict and mitigate the impact of such events," the study said.

This article was first published on March 13, 2017