The social amplification of risk on Twitter: the case of ash dieback disease in the United Kingdom

Lindsay Fellenor, Julia Barnett, Clive Potter, Julie Urquhart, John Mumford, Christopher Quine

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It has long been recognised that the traditional media play a key role in representing risk and are a significant source of information which can shape how people perceive and respond to hazard events. Early work utilising the social amplification of risk framework (SARF) sought to understand the discrepancy between expert and lay perceptions of risk and patterns of risk intensification and attenuation with reference to the media. However, the advent of Web 2.0 challenges traditional models of communication. To date there has been limited consideration of social media within the SARF and its role in mediating processes of risk perception and communication. Against this backdrop, we focus on the social media platform Twitter to consider the social amplification of risk in relation to ash dieback disease (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus); a tree health issue that attracted intense media attention when it was first identified in the UK in 2012. We present an empirical analysis of 25,600 tweets in order to explore what people were saying about ash dieback on Twitter, who was talking about it and how they talked about it. Our discussion outlines the themes around which talk about ash dieback was orientated, the significance of users’ environmental ‘affiliations’ and the role of including links (URLs) to traditional media coverage. We utilise the notion of ‘piggybacking’ to demonstrate how information is customised in line with group/individual identities and interests and introduce the concept of the ‘frame fragment’ to illustrate how information is selected and moved around Twitter emphasising certain features of the messages. The paper affords a detailed consideration of the way in which people and organisations simultaneously appropriate, construct and pass on risk-relevant information. A conclusion is that social media has the potential to transform the media landscape within which the SARF was originally conceived, presenting renewed challenges for risk communication.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1163-1183
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Risk Research
Issue number10
Early online date27 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • social amplification of risk, Twitter, social media, tree health, visual analytics, risk communication


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