OPINION2 October 2013

Insight to action: Twitter Alerts service


Twitter has launched an Alerts service to allow verified sources to push out and draw users’ attentions to tweets that detail warnings of imminent dangers or emergency situations.


Twitter writes:”When news breaks about a weather or safety emergency, government agencies and emergency responders jump into action on the ground and on Twitter, delivering critical and timely information and engaging with constituents. We saw this following Superstorm Sandy, the tsunami in Japan, and the manhunt in Boston.

“Today, we’re launching Twitter Alerts, a new feature that brings us one step closer to helping users get important and accurate information during emergencies, natural disasters or when other communications services aren’t accessible.”

Law enforcement and public safety agencies, among others, can register for the Alerts program and once accepted, they are able to send tweets marked with an orange bell icon, to flag safety announcements.

Twitter users too can sign up to receive Alert tweets from verified accounts (FEMA, for example) in several ways – as a highlighted tweet, a text message or an app notification.

The launch of this service follows the publication of an academic paper, which explored the role social media plays in Mexico, where users share information relating to drugs cartel violence.

The paper noted that it was difficult for users to always be sure of the information they were receiving, with no way to independently verify the tweets or the Twitter users who were doing the sharing.

Twitter Alerts goes some way towards addressing the problem, although by only verifying official agencies it doesn’t address the paper’s broader question of how regular users of Twitter are able to know which non-official sources to trust.

See ‘Verified accounts’, originally published in Issue 2 of Impact Magazine, for more on this story.