Crises and Civility
Social media can play an important role during and after natural disasters and crises. Officials, politicians, and citizens use platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to share important information as well as their personal knowledge about an event. Yet, we know very little about how individuals use social media during crises. Specifically, do individuals use social media to share the information they have about an event and to provide one another with solidarity and comfort, or do they use these platforms to spread misinformation and engage in polemics? To address this question, we content-analyzed more than 10,000 tweets sent in response to two campus crises: the 2014 shooting at Florida State University and the 2016 stabbing at Ohio State University. Our analysis proceeds in two parts. We begin by using Gephi to map the content of the tweets posted during and the week after each crisis, highlighting differences in the directions of the discourse. Then, drawing on qualitative analyses of the tweets, we discuss the content of the tweets during each time frame in more detail, tracing the implications of this discourse for civility. For example, we show that the spread of misinformation is common during and immediately after a crisis, and that this is not an indicator of incivility. The problem, we argue, is when misinformation is spread days after the crisis and used to fuel polemics in public spaces. This undermines civility online because it reflects intolerance and discrimination rather than facilitating a reasonable debate. We conclude with a discussion of factors that may make communication during crises more (or less) civil.