Twitter chatter could help save lives

Researchers from Lockheed Martin and the University of Maryland have kicked off a study of social media website chatter – which could theoretically be used to help emergency responders save lives during disasters.

“We are trying to figure out if the content on these sites is worth paying attention to,” Lockheed Martin spokesperson Brian Dennis told the Courier Post.

“And if so, how to separate relevant, useful stuff from the blabbers and noisemakers.”

The research team is expected to focus its current efforts on tracking hurricane-related content posted to Twitter, Flickr and YouTube.

Meteorologists are already forecasting the onset of 18-21 storms, primarily in the Southeast and the oil-ravaged Gulf of Mexico.

The project was reportedly inspired by the electronic response to the 7.0 magnitude earthquake which hit Haiti in January.

Indeed, despite widespread devastation in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, significant information was still being transmitted from people on the edge of the earthquake zone via cell and satellite phones.

“[We] identified about 50 key people on the island who were sending tweets or messages. Within two hours, communication from the core group had reached 18,000 people,” explained Dennis.

“[So we are] fairly confident that the messages do matter in terms of helping people in need, but we need to confirm it. Then, we need to come up with more sophisticated software tools to separate the wheat from the chaff.”

He added that members of social networking sites were likely to chat “a bit more openly,” which could also help researchers gain a greater understanding of corruption or political uprisings.