By Xin Lu, and Christa Brelsford.
To investigate the dynamics of social networks and the formation and evolution of online communities in response to extreme events, we collected three datasets from Twitter shortly before and after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. We find that while almost all users increased their online activity after the earthquake, Japanese speakers, who are assumed to be more directly affected by the event, expanded the network of people they interact with to a much higher degree than English speakers or the global average. By investigating the evolution of communities, we find that the behavior of joining or quitting a community is far from random: users tend to stay in their current status and are less likely to join new communities from solitary or shift to other communities from their current community. While non-Japanese speakers did not change their conversation topics significantly after the earthquake, nearly all Japanese users changed their conversations to earthquake-related content.
This study builds a systematic framework for investigating human behaviors under extreme events with online social network data and our findings on the dynamics of networks and communities may provide useful insight for understanding how patterns of social interaction are influenced by extreme events.