"Help! Can You Hear Me?": Understanding How Help-Seeking Posts are Overwhelmed on Social Media during a Natural Disaster

by   Changyang He, et al.

Posting help-seeking requests on social media has been broadly adopted by victims during natural disasters to look for urgent rescue and supplies. The help-seeking requests need to get sufficient public attention and be promptly routed to the intended target(s) for timely responses. However, the huge volume and diverse types of crisis-related posts on social media might limit help-seeking requests to receive adequate engagement and lead to their overwhelm. To understand this problem, this work proposes a mixed-methods approach to figure out the overwhelm situation of help-seeking requests, and individuals' and online communities' strategies to cope. We focused on the 2021 Henan Floods in China and collected 141,674 help-seeking posts with the keyword "Henan Rainstorm Mutual Aid" on a popular Chinese social media platform Weibo. The findings indicate that help-seeking posts confront critical challenges of both external overwhelm (i.e., an enormous number of non-help-seeking posts with the help-seeking-related keyword distracting public attention) and internal overwhelm (i.e., attention inequality with 5 receiving more than 95 and non-linguistic help-seeking strategies that could help to prevent the overwhelm, such as including contact information, disclosing situational vulnerabilities, using subjective narratives, and structuring help-seeking posts to a normalized syntax. We also illustrate how community members spontaneously work to prevent the overwhelm with their collective wisdom (e.g., norm development through discussion) and collaborative work (e.g., cross-community support). We reflect on how the findings enrich the literature in crisis informatics and raise design implications that facilitate effective help-seeking on social media during natural disasters.


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