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Crisis and Civility: Twitter Discourse after Campus Shootings

Sun, August 12, 8:30 to 10:10am, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Floor: Level 100, 113B


Social media can play an important role before, during and after a crisis. Officials, organizations, individuals, and journalists can simultaneously use platforms such as Twitter to share information that maximizes resources allocated to crisis response and minimizes loss of life. Social media, however, do more than share factual information among users following a given hashtag. Platforms such as Twitter allow individuals to collectively and collaboratively construct a narrative about an event. These narratives matter because they not only provide frameworks for discussing crises, but also create opportunities for deliberation among individuals holding diverse points of view. These narratives that emerge on social media are not always civil, and we explore the relationship between Twitter crisis narratives and civility in this study. Specifically, we examine how four types of Twitter crisis narratives – personal stories, polemics, factual information, and misinformation – influence discourse civility. 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. We find that personal stories and factual information are associated with higher levels of civil discourse than polemics and misinformation. Additionally, we find that one or two individuals serve as “opinion entrepreneurs” in the wake of crises and indelibly shape the course and civility of the broader, collective conversation.