Networks and Shocks

How do people shift their communication behavior in response to sudden shocks in their social and natural environments, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or economic downturns?

Previous studies suggest that the uncertainty induced by shocks generally lead individuals to rely more heavily on trusted strong ties who share similar attributes, beliefs, and geography. Nevertheless, behavioral heterogeneity can underlie the general tendency to rely more on strong, homophilous ties. While the risk-averse majority hunker down in social interactions towards their relationally strong ties as past research have shown, it is possible that the risk-taking, entrepreneurially-oriented minority attempt to expand their networks in search of better opportunities, if not out of desperation for survival.

I investigate these questions by analyzing the change in Twitter users’ interactions before and after Hurricane Sandy, Typhoon Haiyan, and large-scale layoffs of workers in small U.S. cities.