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Kent State Researchers to Study Social Media Use During Crises and Disasters

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Kent State University a $300,000 grant for three College of Arts and Sciences faculty members to study how human dynamics across social media and social networks can be modeled. The grant is part of a $999,887 collaboration with San Diego State University and the University of Arkansas.

Professor Jay Lee and Assistant Professor Xinyue Ye of Kent State’s Department of Geography and Associate Professor Ruoming Jin of Kent State’s Department of Computer Science will use information diffusion, visualization and simulations to study the public responses to disaster warnings and alerts, as well as the public opinions of controversial social topics at the state or national level. 

“The outcomes yielded from this research will assist in better designing and implementing disaster warnings and alerts as well as more efficient disseminating communications of political messages via social media and social networks,” Ye said.

The researchers plan to collaborate with the San Diego Office of Emergency Services (OES) to create a prototype platform using social media to study how people respond and react to messages warning of inclement weather, earthquakes, wildfires, disease outbreaks and evacuation orders. 

“The study may also allow government agencies to communicate more effectively to the public and be better prepared for both natural and human-made crises,” Ye said.  

Ye said that the government response to social issues, such as gun control, anti-vaccination movements and the threat of government shutdown, relies on the impact of online public opinion and public political debates. 

The social media analytic tools developed by this group will be able to calculate how these messages are disseminated online and in social media and the outcomes of the referendum votes.

While most users of social networks are millennials, the researchers want to make sure that older generations are included as well. 

“We will try to reach out to the health providers and caregivers to introduce our social media channels and platform to people in senior communities, nursing homes and health centers,” Ye said. 

Another goal of their project is to bridge the gap between the different generations by encouraging young people to participate in society in a more meaningful way. 

“We hope through this project and the volunteer platform, we can encourage these young people to play a more active and important role in our society,” Ye said. “They can become the scouts for our society to protect these senior citizens and local communities.”

For more information about Kent State’s Department of Geography, visit www.kent.edu/cas/geography.

For more information about Kent State’s Department of Computer Science, visit www.kent.edu/cas/cs.

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Media Contacts:  Jim Maxwell, jmaxwel2@kent.edu, 330-672-8028
Emily Vincent, evincen2@kent.edu, 330-672-8595