Tweets can save lives

OF THE millions of Twitter users, about 98 percent switch off the function that publicly displays the location of any tweet.

There are many reasons why people don't want their location broadcast to the world, but privacy is usually the main driver.

But what they don't realise is that it's still possible to locate many of them, down to at least a few kilometres in some cases. For some authorities, that can be very useful.

What most Twitter users do not know is that when they tweet, they are not only sharing a short message but also some other information.

This "metadata" may include a subset of their profile, the type of device their message has been sent from, date and some location data about the message.

Metadata may not be made visible by the mobile phone Twitter app to a user's followers, but anyone can access it using the programming interface Twitter publicly provides.

While it makes sense that people want to protect their privacy when tweeting, in some domains such as disaster management (from earthquakes to bushfires, cyclones, flooding, a road crash, a street brawl), location is critical.

Our research indicates that social networking in general, and Twitter in particular, can bridge the gap that exists in the current emergency response systems regarding what it describes as the lack of immediate flow of information from people at the scene towards authorities or those who can provide help.

Twitter, among the social media platforms, is known to be a valuable augmentation to current emergency response systems. So, if you want to protect your privacy when posting a general tweet, make sure your profile location is left blank, do not tag any location and do not mention place names.

But if you tweet about an emergency situation or incident, then make sure you include as much location information as you can. Your tweet will then become useful in any emergency response. It could even help save lives.

This article first appeared on and is courtesy of The Conversation.

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