Attribution of Responsibility and Blame Regarding a Man-made Disaster: #FlintWaterCrisis

Talha Oz, Halil Bisgin

Attribution of responsibility and blame are important topics in political science especially as individuals tend to think of political issues in terms of questions of responsibility, and as blame carries far more weight in voting behavior than that of credit. However, surprisingly, there is a paucity of studies on the attribution of responsibility and blame in the field of disaster research. The Flint water crisis is a story of government failure at all levels. By studying microblog posts about it, we understand how citizens assign responsibility and blame regarding such a man-made disaster online. We form hypotheses based on social scientific theories in disaster research and then operationalize them on unobtrusive, observational social media data. In particular, we investigate the following phenomena: the source for blame; the partisan predisposition; the concerned geographies; and the contagion of complaining. This paper adds to the sociology of disasters research by exploiting a new, rarely used data source (the social web), and by employing new computational methods (such as sentiment analysis and retrospective cohort study design) on this new form of data. In this regard, this work should be seen as the first step toward drawing more challenging inferences on the sociology of disasters from "big social data".

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