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Data from Twitter provides new ways to mitigate disasters and generate insights about climate crises

Written by Khamila Mulia Published on   3 mins read

Organizations and individuals can gain programmatic access to Twitter data through public APIs, allowing them to build tools for impactful effects.

There have been many occasions where major events were tweeted about in real-time, well before news reports were produced to summarize what happened. This is particularly true when natural disasters and other emergencies happen because hashtags make it possible to organize new information quickly, and the platform offers an immediacy between users who tweet at each other. As global warming accelerates, people are using Twitter to learn about the latest developments around the world. Mentions of “climate change” (in English) grew by an average of 50% annually between 2013 and 2020, according to the company.

“The conversations on Twitter are public and in real-time. When it comes to disaster response, these two elements form the necessary compound for communicating,” Amy Udelson, director of marketing, Twitter Developer Platform, told KrASIA. Features like hashtags, mentions, search prompts, event pages, and Moments are useful tools for people who are seeking help or can provide aid. Last year, people across the Asia Pacific used Twitter to organize relief efforts for disasters like the Assam Floods in India and when Typhoon Vamco swept through the Philippines.

The company recently launched the #ExtremeWeather visualization mini-site to provide insights into how Twitter uses conversation data to generate instant assessments and relief efforts during emergencies. The mini-site contains several case studies and visuals based on tweet trends, showing how weather-related disasters have shaped public conversations worldwide.

Twitter provides organizations and individuals with programmatic access to the platform’s data through its public application programming interfaces (APIs), allowing them to build tools to draw new insights out of Twitter. “This creates different ways to support people in crisis during natural disasters, such as through developing bots to ensure quick responses or dashboards to get the latest relevant information,” said Udelson.

Udelson pointed KrASIA to an example of an Indonesian mapping platform, Peta Bencana, that developed a “humanitarian bot” using open-source software called CogniCity during the Jakarta floods in January 2020. The bot listens for tweets to the @PetaBencana account with flood-related keywords and automatically responds with instructions on how to share observations. It also used this information to create a flood map.

Peta Bencana’s map was accessed over 259,000 times when floodwaters were at their highest level, with a 24,000% increase in activity in a week. Residents frequently checked the map to assess their immediate environs, avoid flooded areas, and make decisions about their personal safety.

“We see opportunities for developers to utilize the Twitter API for further research to support how we understand and respond to global climate emergencies. For example, Frances Moore, a professor at the University of California, Davis, has been turning to Twitter for her climate research,” said Udelson. Moore found that people tend to stop reacting to unusual weather after dealing with it for a while, sometimes in as little as two years.

Anyone can apply for a Twitter Developer account, but the platform will review each application to ensure every project adheres to its developer agreement and policy. There are currently hundreds of thousands of developers and researchers leveraging the Twitter API for a variety of applications. “There is no special selection that Twitter does for groups such as Peta Bencana. You simply have to apply for a Twitter developer account and present a compliant use case,” Udelson said.

She added that Twitter data can be crowdsourced and validated by more than one person within a specific area or region, thus making the information as accurate as possible. “While data from Twitter should not be the only measurement of the impact of a natural disaster on the ground, we have found that it works as a complementary data point that often reflects current circumstances more quickly due to its real-time nature,” said Udelson. As a result, agencies around the world can utilize Twitter to investigate the situation in real-time and gain a new, immediate understanding of situations that are still unfolding, she added.

Read this: Climate tech investments gain pace in India


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