How to find the right Twitter user in a crisis

Honing your Twitter feed can be a chore at the best of times, but when you want the latest information during a natural disaster or national uprising, things get a lot harder.
Now there's an approach that helps find tweeters who are generating good amounts of high-quality information. A team led by Shamanth Kumar of Arizona State University in Tempe have done this by analysing 12.9 million tweets from Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen and Libya between February and August 2011, during the Arab Spring.
Their analysis divvies tweeters up according to two basic factors - where they are and what they are talking about. Tweeters closest to breaking news events are preferred - their location is established from profiles, geotagged tweets or words matching relevant places.
The researchers ran an automatic process to discover the main topics from the database of Arab Spring tweets, then manually went through them to choose those most relevant to the uprising. Users whose tweets most often contain these relevant topics, who are also near the action, are the ones you want to follow.
In a paper due to be presented at the ACM Conference on Hypertext and Social Media in Paris, France, in May, Kumar writes that the most useful tweeters are not expected to have a large number of followers, or be influential on Twitter outside of the crisis.

By Hal Hodson

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