Performance of social network sensors during Hurricane Sandy

PLoS One. 2015 Feb 18;10(2):e0117288. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0117288. eCollection 2015.


Information flow during catastrophic events is a critical aspect of disaster management. Modern communication platforms, in particular online social networks, provide an opportunity to study such flow and derive early-warning sensors, thus improving emergency preparedness and response. Performance of the social networks sensor method, based on topological and behavioral properties derived from the "friendship paradox", is studied here for over 50 million Twitter messages posted before, during, and after Hurricane Sandy. We find that differences in users' network centrality effectively translate into moderate awareness advantage (up to 26 hours); and that geo-location of users within or outside of the hurricane-affected area plays a significant role in determining the scale of such an advantage. Emotional response appears to be universal regardless of the position in the network topology, and displays characteristic, easily detectable patterns, opening a possibility to implement a simple "sentiment sensing" technique that can detect and locate disasters.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cyclonic Storms*
  • Disasters*
  • Emotions
  • Friends / psychology
  • Geography
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Social Networking*

Grant support

Yury Kryvasheyeu, Haohui Chen, Pascal Van Hentenryck and Manuel Cebrian acknowledge the support of the Australian Government represented by the Department of Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy; and the Australian Research Council through the ICT Centre of Excellence program. Esteban Moro acknowledges the support of Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology under grant FIS2013-47532-C3-3-P. This research was also supported by the Army Research Laboratory under Cooperative Agreement Numbers W911NF-09-2-0053 and W911NF-11-1-0363, the National Science Foundation under grant 0905645, and DARPA/Lockheed Martin Guard Dog Programme under PO 4100149822. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.