Date of Award:

8-2019

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Computer Science

Advisor/Chair:

Amanda L. Hughes

Co-Advisor/Chair:

Daniel W. Watson

Third Advisor:

Curtis Dyreson

Abstract

This dissertation consists of three studies that examine online communications during crisis events. The first study identified and examined the information sources that provided official information online during the 2014 Carlton Complex Wildfire. Specifically, after the wildfire, a set of webpages and social media accounts were discovered that were named after the wildfire—called Crisis Named Resources (or CNRs). CNRs shared the highest percentage of wildfire-relevant information. Because CNRs are named after a crisis event, they are easier to find and appear to be dedicated and/or official sources around an event. They can, however, be created and deleted in a short time, and the creators of CNRs are often unknown, which raises questions of trust and credibility regarding the information CNRs provide.

To better understand the role of CNRs in crisis response, the second study examined CNRs that were named after the 2016 Fort McMurray Wildfire. Findings showed that many CNRs were created around the wildfire, most of which either became inactive or were closed after the wildfire containment. These CNRs shared wildfire-relevant information and served a variety of purposes from information dissemination to offers of help to expressions of solidarity. Additionally, even though most CNR owners remained anonymous, these resources received good reviews and were followed by many people.

These observations about CNRs laid the foundation for the third study that sought to determine the factors that influence the trustworthiness of these resources. The third study involved 17 interviews and 105 surveys with members of the public and experts in Crisis Informatics, Communication Studies, and Emergency Management. Participants were asked to evaluate the trustworthiness of CNRs that were named after the 2017 Hurricane Irma. Findings indicate that participants evaluated the trustworthiness of CNRs based on their perceptions of CNR content, information source(s), owner, and profile.

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