Achieving Accuracy through Ambiguity: the Interactivity of Risk Communication in Severe Weather Events
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Achieving Accuracy through Ambiguity: the Interactivity of Risk Communication in Severe Weather Events

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  • Journal Title:
    Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW)
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    Risks associated with natural hazards such as hurricanes are increasingly communicated on social media. For hurricane risk communication, visual information products—graphics—generated by meteorologists and scientists at weather agencies portray forecasts and atmospheric conditions and are offered to parsimoniously convey predictions of severe storms. This research considers risk interactivity by examining a particular hurricane graphic which has shown in previous research to have a distinctive diffusion signature: the ‘spaghetti plot’, which contains multiple discrete lines depicting a storm’s possible path. We first analyzed a large dataset of microblog interactions around spaghetti plots between members of the public and authoritative weather sources within the US during the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season. We then conducted interviews with a sample of the weather authorities after preliminary findings sketched the role that experts have in such communications. Findings describe how people make sense of risk dialogically over graphics, and show the presence of a fundamental tension in risk communication between accuracy and ambiguity. The interactive effort combats the unintended declarative quality of the graphical risk representation through communicative acts that maintain a hazard’s inherent ambiguity until risk can be foreclosed. We consider theoretical and practice-based implications of the limits and potentials of graphical risk representations and of widely diffused scientific communication, and offer reasons we need CSCW attention paid to the larger enterprise of risk communication.
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    Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), 29(5), 587-623
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    CC BY
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