Last Updated: July 28, 2016 Sifting Social Media’s Tornado Fact from Fiction

SMART social media

New SMART Technology used for social media warnings.

With so many ways of sending and receiving communication these days through social media, it’s no wonder the question “Is that tornado tweet for real?” is being examined.  That’s a question the National Weather Service is asking, and it’s using newly developed software known as SMART to do so, according to an NPR story.

“When a disaster strikes, the Internet is flooded with microblogs, tweets, Facebook messages, and other social media posts. If used correctly, this information can shape the way public safety agencies handle the response to and recovery from major events. However, the sheer volume of data makes it difficult for analysts to sift through and verify information in real time,” says a Department of Homeland Security handout on the program.

Since the average Twitter user won’t be able to tell whether a tweet is fact or fiction — at least not when a storm is bearing down — the NWS is mining the data to separate the wheat from the chaff. And that’s where SMART comes in.

SMART separates wheat from the chaff

The NWS is using software called Social Media Analytics and Reporting Toolkit (SMART). Developed by Purdue University, the Department of Homeland Security and the NWS, the software contains an algorithm that looks at the user’s retweet frequency as well as his or her veracity.

NWS officials don’t consider social media posts alone. They overlay them with a visual that shows the storm’s path to determine which are true and which aren’t. The SMART  social media analysis system provides analysts with scalable analysis and visualization of social media posts.

Also at issue, though, is the fact that Twitter users tend to be younger, more urban and more well-to-do than the general population. That means older folks who live in rural areas and don’t use social media might not get the warnings that come via social media.

The tracking program is better at after-the-fact analysis than it is at real-time warning, according to the NPR story. However, it could allow first responders to target areas that most need the help and give those in the path of the storm a few extra seconds to reach their storm shelters.

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Listen to this news story from THV11 about how officials and everyday folks in Little Rock, Ark., used social media to share updates about the April 27, 2014, storm, as well as how they are sharing their storm stories today.

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