During crisis events individuals look for information and try to share useful content or testify their own experience through social media sites. The research for valuable information is, usually, largely based on information provided - through social media as well as through more traditional media - by news agencies and official actors. This collective behavior leads, on a given amount of time, toward the emergence of gatewatching activities where digital media are usually used to reshare and to control information. But how does this phenomenon emerge? This paper will investigate this specific topic looking at the Twitter conversations produced during the first five hours after the earthquake that struck Emilia Romagna region in Italy on May 20th 2012.
By focusing on the first 5 hours of the Twitter stream we have been able to detect the early user-led phase of the phenomenon, showing which type of users has been the first to fill the information gap and, by then, what happened until the early morning when traditional media came on stage. The research has been based both on the a textual qualitative analysis of the tweets, aimed at investigating what kind of messages were produced and by what kind of users, and on a Social Network Analysis of the #terremoto hashtag that showed how user-produced communication results in different network structures than news agencies’ produced ones.