Public Attention to Environmental Hazards
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Although public attention has been noted as being influential within the hazard-response cycle, it has received almost no consideration within the risk and hazards literature. This is surprising, as attention is often noted in other disciplines for bridging the gap between information and action, and therefore public attention is highly relevant to the study of risk communication and response. It is prudent, therefore, to draw insights on public attention from other disciplines and bring them to bear on challenges pertaining to the human dimensions of environmental hazards. This dissertation presents original research that investigates this important issue. The first manuscript examines the use of Facebook after a significant tornado event that occurred in southern Ontario, Canada in August 2011. The results of this research underscore the usefulness of Facebook and Facebook groups for information seeking, decision support, and misinformation management. The second manuscript investigates the ways that Twitter was used by different actors groups (e.g., weather professionals, weather enthusiasts, news media, first responders, and citizens) during a second tornado-warning storm that affected southern Ontario, Canada in September 2016. The results of this research underscore the fact that Twitter is a powerful platform for the interpretation of both official and unofficial weather information. This interpretation is an iterative process that occurs both individually and collectively—a process that is often referred to as sense-making. The results of the second manuscript also highlight the fact that activity on Twitter can be indicative of professional, rather than “public”, attention to severe weather. The final manuscript draws on theoretical and empirical insights from research across numerous disciplines in order to frame the concept of public attention. Next, theoretical insights from the existing literature on public attention were taken together with empirical insights gained from the two original research projects, in order to develop a conceptual model of public attention. This model shows the process of attention creation from the initial point of exposure, to the iterative and collaborative process of sense-making, to an outcome (i.e., perception, decision, or action). The results of this dissertation emphasize the usefulness of public attention as a lens through which social scientists and other researchers can explore human behaviour when confronted with uncertainty—a topic that is of interest across the social sciences.
Cite this work
Amber Silver (2017). Public Attention to Environmental Hazards. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/12661