Researchers have developed a 'real time' method that uses social media to reliably forecast the financial impact of natural disasters, an advance that may help businesses recover form the current global health crisis.
According to the researchers, including those from the University of Bristol in the UK, social media could be used to chart the economic impact and recovery of businesses in countries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In their study, published in Nature Communications, they said traditional economic recovery estimates, such as surveys and interviews, are usually costly, time-consuming and do not scale-up well.
However, the scientists were able to accurately estimate the downtime and recovery of small businesses in countries affected by three different natural hazards using aggregated social media data.
The method used by the researchers relies on the assumption that businesses tend to publish more social media posts when they are open and fewer when they are closed.
By analysing the aggregated posting activity of a group of businesses over time, the study said it is possible to infer when they are open or closed.
Using data from the public Facebook posts of local businesses collected before, during and after three natural disasters comprising the 2015 Gorkha earthquake in Nepal, the 2017 Chiapas earthquake in Mexico, and the 2017 hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, the scientists charted the number of smaller urban businesses who were closed and then were able to measure their recovery post-event.
They validated their analysis using field surveys, official reports, Facebook surveys, Facebook posts text analysis and other studies available in literature.
According to the scientists, the framework works in 'real time' without the need for text analysis which can be largely dependent on language, culture or semantic analysis.
They said it can be applied to any size area or type of natural disaster, in developed and developing countries, allowing local governments to better target the distribution of resources.
"The challenge of nowcasting the effect of natural hazards such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and pandemics on assets, people and society has never been more timely than ever for assessing the ability of countries to recover from extreme events," explained Filippo Simini, the study's lead author from the University of Bristol.
"Often, small to medium-sized businesses slip through the net of traditional monitoring process of recovery. We noticed in areas struck by natural hazard events that not all areas and populations react in the same way," Simini said.
Using the method, the scientists assessed post-emergency deployment of resources after a natural hazard event using public Facebook posts of businesses to measure how a specific region is recovering after the event.