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Topics and topical phases in German social media communication during a disaster*



Social media are an emerging new paradigm in interdisciplinary research in crisis informatics. They bring many opportunities as well as challenges to all fields of application and research involved in the project of using social media content for an improved disaster management. Using the Central European flooding 2013 as our case study, we optimize and apply methods from the field of natural language processing and unsupervised machine learning to investigate the thematic and temporal structure of German social media communication. By means of topic model analysis, we will investigate which kind of content was shared on social media during the event. On this basis, we will, furthermore, investigate the development of topics over time and apply temporal clustering techniques to automatically identify different characteristic phases of communication. From the results, we, first, want to reveal properties of social media content and show what potential social media have for improving disaster management in Germany. Second, we will be concerned with the methodological issue of finding and adapting natural language processing methods that are suitable for analysing social media data in order to obtain information relevant for disaster management. With respect to the first, application-oriented focal point, our study reveals high potential of social media content in the factual, organizational and psychological dimension of the disaster and during all stages of the disaster management life cycle. Interestingly, there appear to be systematic differences in thematic profile between the different platforms Facebook and Twitter and between different stages of the event. In context of our methodological investigation, we claim that if topic model analysis is combined with appropriate optimization techniques, it shows high applicability for thematic and temporal social media analysis in disaster management.



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The research leading to these results has received funding from the European community’s Seventh Framework Programme under grant agreement No. 607691 (SLANDAIL).



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