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Characterizing Collective Attention via Descriptor Context in Public Discussions of Crisis Events

by   Ian Stewart, et al.
Georgia Institute of Technology

Collective attention is central to the spread of real world news and the key to understanding how public discussions report emerging topics and breaking news. Most research measures collective attention via activity metrics such as post volume. While useful, this kind of metric obscures the nuanced content side of collective attention, which may reflect how breaking events are perceived by the public. In this work, we conduct a large-scale language analysis of public online discussions of breaking crisis events on Facebook and Twitter. Specifically, we examine how people refer to locations of hurricanes in their discussion with or without contextual information (e.g. writing "San Juan" vs. "San Juan, Puerto Rico") and how such descriptor expressions are added or omitted in correlation with social factors including relative time, audience and additional information requirements. We find that authors' references to locations are influenced by both macro-level factors such as the location's global importance and micro-level social factors like audience characteristics, and there is a decrease in descriptor context use over time at a collective level as well as at an individual-author level. Our results provide insight that can help crisis event analysts to better predict the public's understanding of news events and to determine how to share information during such events.


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