Jeannette Sutton, Ph.D. 

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Papers and Presentations
Selected Academic Articles. See CV for complete list.

What it Takes to Get Passed On: Message Content, Style, and Structure as Predictors of Retransmission in the Boston Marathon Bombing Response

Jeannette Sutton, C. Ben Gibson, Emma S. Spiro, Cedar League, Sean M. Fitzhugh, Carter T. Butts

Message retransmission is a central aspect of information diffusion. In a disaster context, the passing on of official warning messages by members of the public also serves as a behavioral indicator of message salience, suggesting that particular messages are (or are not) perceived by the public to be both noteworthy and valuable enough to share with others. This study provides the first examination of terse message retransmission of official warning messages in response to a domestic terrorist attack, the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013. Using messages posted from public officials’ Twitter accounts that were active during the period of the Boston Marathon bombing and manhunt, we examine the features of messages that are associated with their retransmission. We focus on message content, style, and structure, as well as the networked relationships of message senders to answer the question: what characteristics of a terse message sent under conditions of imminent threat predict its retransmission among members of the public? We employ a negative binomial model to examine how message characteristics affect message retransmission. We find that, rather than any single effect dominating the process, retransmission of official Tweets during the Boston bombing response was jointly influenced by various message content, style, and sender characteristics. These findings suggest the need for more work that investigates impact of multiple factors on the allocation of attention and on message retransmission during hazard events.


Sutton J, Gibson CB, Spiro ES, League C, Fitzhugh SM, Butts CT (2015) What it Takes to Get Passed On: Message Content, Style, and Structure as Predictors of Retransmission in the Boston Marathon Bombing Response. PLoS ONE 10(8): e0134452. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0134452


The Study of Mobile Public Warning Messages: A Research Review and Agenda

Hamilton Bean, Jeannette Sutton, Brooke F. Liu, Stephanie Madden, Michele M. Wood & Dennis S. Mileti

In 2011, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began authorizing emergency management officials to broadcast Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) to cellular phones and other mobile devices to help notify people of imminent hazards. WEAs are 90-characters long, geographically targeted emergency messages sent by government alerting authorities through the nation's mobile telecommunications networks, which, for the first time, allow officials to directly notify at-risk publics where they live and work. The use of WEAs has outpaced investigation of their benefits, limitations, and actual and potential consequences. To address this critical gap in scholarship and public understanding, we integrate literature from the fields of public warning, instructional crisis communication, and mobile health communication. Combining these literatures, we outline a theoretical and applied communication research agenda for public warning messages delivered over mobile devices.

Bean, H., Sutton, J., Liu, B. F., Madden, S., Wood, M. M., & Mileti, D. S. (2015). The Study of Mobile Public Warning Messages: A Research Review and Agenda. Review of Communication15(1), 60-80.



Terse Messaging and Public Health in the Midst of Natural Disasters: The Case of the Boulder Floods

Jeannette Sutton, Cedar League, Timothy Sellnow, Deanna D. Sellnow

Social media is quickly becoming the channel of choice for disseminating emergency warning messages. However, relatively little data-driven research exists to inform effective message design when using these media. The present study addresses that void by examining terse health-related warning messages sent by public safety agencies over Twitter during the 2013 Boulder, Colorado floods. An examination of 5,100 tweets from 52 Twitter accounts over the course of the five-day flood period yielded several key conclusions and implications. First, public health messages posted by local emergency management leaders are most frequently re-tweeted by organizations in our study. Second, emergency public health messages focus primarily on drinking water in this event. Third, terse messages can be designed in ways that include imperative/instructional and declarative/explanatory styles of content, both of which are essential for promoting public health during crises. These findings demonstrate that even terse messages delivered via Twitter ought to provide information about the hazard event, its impact, and actionable instructions for self protection.

Sutton J, League C., Sellnow TL, and Sellnow, DD. (2015). Terse messaging and public health in the midst of natural disasters: the case of the Boulder floods.  Health Communication 30(2):135-143.  doi: 10.1080/10410236.2014.974124.


Warning tweets: serial transmission of messages during the warning phase of a disaster event

Jeannette Sutton, Emma S. Spiro, Britta Johnson, Sean Fitzhugh, Ben Gibson & Carter T. Butts

Serial transmission – the passing on of information from one source to another – is a phenomenon of central interest in the study of informal communication in emergency settings. Microblogging services such as Twitter make it possible to study serial transmission on a large scale and to examine the factors that make retransmission of messages more or less likely. Here, we consider factors predicting serial transmission at the interface of formal and informal communication during disaster; specifically, we examine the retransmission by individuals of messages (tweets) issued by formal organizations on Twitter. Our central question is the following: How do message content, message style, and public attention to tweets relate to the behavioral activity of retransmitting (i.e. retweeting) a message in disaster? To answer this question, we collect all public tweets sent by a set of official government accounts during a 48-hour period of the Waldo Canyon wildfire. We manually code tweets for their thematic content and elements of message style. We then create predictive models to show how thematic content, message style, and changes in number of Followers affect retweeting behavior. From these predictive models, we identify the key elements that affect public retransmission of messages during the emergency phase of an unfolding disaster. Our findings suggest strategies for designing and disseminating messages through networked social media under periods of imminent threat.

"Warning tweets: serial transmission of messages during the warning phase of a disaster event" Information, Communication & Society Volume 17, Issue 6, 2014


Tweeting the Spill: Online Informal Communications, Social Networks, and Conversational Microstructures during the Deepwater Horizon Oilspill
Jeannette Sutton, Emma Spiro, Carter Butts, Sean Fitzhugh, Britta Johnson and Matt Greczek

Informal online communication channels are being utilized for official communications in disaster contexts. Channels such as networked microblogging enable public officials to broadcast messages as well as engage in direct communication exchange with individuals. Here the authors investigate online information exchange behaviors of a set of state and federal organizations during the Deepwater Horizon 2010 oil spill disaster. Using data from the popular microblogging service, Twitter, they analyze the roles individual organizations play in the dissemination of information to the general public online, and the conversational aspects of official posts. The authors discuss characteristics and features of the following networks including actor centrality and differential mixing, as well as how structural features may affect information exchange in disasters. This research provides insight into the use of networked communications during an event of heightened public concern, describes implications of conversational features, and suggests directions for future research.

"Tweeting the Spill: Online Informal Communications, Social Networks, and Conversational Microstructures during the Deepwater Horizon Oilspill" International Journal of Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (IJISCRAM) Vol. 5 : Iss. 1 (2013).


Changing Channels: Communicating Tsunami Warning Information in Hawaii
Jeannette Sutton, Brett Hansard, and Paul Hewett

On the morning of February 27, 2010, a potentially destructive tsunami reached the Hawaiian Islands, following a powerful 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Chile the prior evening. In the approximately 15 hours between the time of the earthquake and the tsunami making landfall, information to warn the populations at risk was communicated through multiple official and unofficial channels, including social media networks. Focusing on the city of Hilo on the Island of Hawaii, the authors examine the strategies used to warn the public and the methods employed to gather and disseminate information and monitor public response. Emergency managers and news media that created and disseminated warning products were among those interviewed. (Follow-up interviews were conducted in March 2011 following the Japan earthquake and subsequent tsunami.) Key findings from this study showed that (1) traditional news media, especially local radio stations, continue to play a vital role in communicating emergency public information; (2) the use of new technology, such as social media, is widespread in a crisis, but only as part of a larger information-sharing strategy; and (3) pre-existing networks and community partnerships are the foundation for information sharing in an emergency. The authors argue that it is critical that responsible organizations use multiple channels to ensure warning messages are effectively communicated to the public.

Presented at the 3rd International Joint Topical Meeting on Emergency Preparedness and Response, Robotics, and Remote Systems.  Knoxville, Tennessee.  August 9, 2011.



Twittering Tennessee: Distributed Networks and Collaboration Following a Technological Disaster
Jeannette Sutton

Informal communication channels are often the primary means by which time-sensitive hazard information first reaches members of the public.  The capacity for informal communications has been recently transformed by the widespread adoption of social media technologies, such as the micro-blogging service Twitter, which allows individuals to interact with a broad audience over great distances.  During a disaster or crisis event, this networked communication mechanism provides a means to communicate information and facilitate collaboration both locally and among distributed networks.  This paper examines the use of Twitter following a technological disaster, showing how geographically dispersed individuals broadcast information about the impact of the disaster and its long-term effects, in contrast with the dearth of participation among public officials and industry representatives. Non-local users challenged authoritative accounts of the disaster and corrected misinformation. Conclusions are provided for policy makers and suggestions are offered for further research.

Suttton, Jeannette N. (2010) "Twittering Tennessee: Distributed Networks and Collaboration Following a Technological Disaster." Proceedings of the 7th International ISCRAM Conference. Seattle, USA, May 2010.

Social Media Monitoring and the Democratic National Convention: New Tasks and Emergent Processes
Jeannette Sutton

Abstract: Public information officers and FEMA external affairs personnel routinely monitor online media reports in times of crises and disaster events. Online news sources now include citizen driven social media such as blogs, i-reports, photo and video sharing and networked information and communication technologies such as Facebook, MySpace, and the microblogging network, Twitter. While these communication mechanisms are increasing, little is known about the attention public officials devote to accessing, monitoring, and addressing public communication through social media. Utilizing data gathered through observations, interviews, and document analysis, this study concentrates on the new task of social media monitoring and the emergent processes used by public officials during the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Although some strategies were developed to monitor and utilize social media, there was a tendency to fall back upon standard operating procedures, limiting the emergence of new processes. Recommendations are provided for media monitoring activities in future crisis and disaster response.

Sutton, Jeannette N. (2009) "Social Media Monitoring and the Democratic National Convention: New Tasks and Emergent Processes," Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management: Vol. 6 : Iss. 1, Article 67.
http://www.bepress.com/jhsem/vol6/iss1/67

Backchannels on the Front Lines: Emergent Uses of Social Media in the 2007 Southern California Wildfires
Jeannette Sutton, Leysia Palen, and Irina Shklovski

Collective Intelligence in Disaster: Examination of the Phenomenon in the Aftermath of the 2007 Virginia Tech Shooting
Sarah Vieweg, Leysia Palen, Sophia B. Liu, Amanda L. Hughes, and Jeannette Sutton

Crisis Informatics: Studying Crisis in a Networked World
Leysia Palen, Sarah Vieweg, Jeannette Sutton, Sophia B. Lui, and Amanda Hughes

Finding Community Through Information and Communication Technology During Disaster Events
Irina Shklovski, Leysia Palen, and Jeannette Sutton

In Search of the Bigger Picture: The Emergent Role of On-Line Photo Sharing in Times of Disaster
Sophia B. Liu, Leysia Palen, Jeannette Sutton, Amanda L. Hughes, and Sarah Vieweg

"Site-Seeing" in Disaster: An Examination of On-Line Social Convergence
Amanda L. Hughes, Leysia Palen, Jeannette Sutton, Sophia B. Liu, and Sarah Vieweg

Articles and Book Chapters

The Public Uses Social Networking During Disasters
(Adapted from Presentation at the World Conference on Disaster Management; Part 1 of 2)
GovTech Emergency Management Magazine, July 29, 2009

Social Media Brings Together Resources, Creates More Resilient Communities 
(Adapted from Presentation at the World Conference on Disaster Management; Part 2 of 2)
GovTech Emergency Management Magazine, July 29, 2009

Citizen Photojournalism During Crisis Events in Citizen Journalism: Global Perspectives.
Sophia B. Liu, Leysia Palen, Jeannette Sutton, Amanda L. Hughes, and Sarah Vieweg

Social Media and the Democratic National Convention: What Happens When Web 2.0 Meets the Official Version?
The Natural Hazards Observer, November 2008, pp. 7-9.
Selected Presentations

Risk Communication I (language, format, consistency in short-term)
August 5, 2015 at the American Meteorological Society Summer Community Meeting, Raleigh, North Carolina

Alerts, Warnings, and Social Media: what works, what doesn't, what makes a difference
June 24, 2013 at the 23rd World Conference on Disaster Management, Toronto, Canada

Strengthening Community Resiliency: New Media, Social Networks and the Critical Civic Infrastructure
June 7, 2010 at the 20th World Conference on Disaster Management, Toronto, Canada.

Warning systems, Risk Communication, and New Social Media: How Technological Innovation is Changing the Landscape for Disaster Communications
June 23, 2009 at the 19th World Conference on Disaster Management, Toronto, Canada.
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