Location Ambiguity in Social Media Emergency Alerts

Most social media posts are not well defined by geography.  When you follow someone, you might know where they live or you might not.  And if you are searching on keywords, you’re pretty much at the mercy of the post’s content.

Which raises this interesting problem:  if you see a posting for an accident in Madison, how do you know where that is?

There are at least 20 municipalities as well as 19 counties with the name “Madison”.  Other popular city/town names and the count of their use (municipal only) in the US are in the list below:

  • Madison           20
  • Clinton             20
  • Clayton            19
  • Marion             18
  • Auburn            16
  • Jackson           16
  • Oxford             16
  • Washington     16
  • Springfield       16
  • Greenville        15

More than 1800 municipalities (cities, towns, villages and boroughs) share a name with at least one other municipality in the US.  And over 400 US counties share a name with some other county.   Throw in some tweets from the UK, Canada, Ireland etc. and the possibilities for confusion run into many thousands.

One clear implication of this is that folks who post emergency alerts for social media should include their state.  That doesn’t completely eliminate ambiguity (there are two towns named “Nebo” in NC for example), but it reduces it by at least 99%.  It only takes 2 characters to add the state postal abbreviation.  And no one looking at a post for Washington County should have to wonder if it’s for ME, VA, TX or IN.