How to assess the value of tweets and those tweeting

Image courtesy of Steve Rhodes released under Creative CommonsJournalists wanting to integrate Twitter into their newsgathering routine should be wary of trusting random posts which claim to be relaying important information.

Working with known contacts is one thing, but working with total strangers and trying to find out who to trust presents the journalist with a problem.

A journalist using Twitter needs to apply a few simple tests in order to assess who to follow and what information is worth following up.

Image courtesy of Steve Rhodes released under Creative Commons

How to verify a tweet

Twitter is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter if you have 100 followers or 10,000, you can break news. That’s because all tweets are recorded and indexed at search.twitter.com . If someone types the right keyword(s), they can find your tweet.

Timestamp

Any time something breaks with hundreds of tweets in minutes, such as a natural disaster, type various keywords and keep paging back until you find the first few tweets about the news. Unless the people tweeting are psychic, they’re probably among the first to have knowledge that something’s up and they may have additional context depending on the story.

Contextual tweets

Immediately check the Twitter user’s page for related tweets around the tweet you found. It may not be the start of a story. An earlier tweet may also contain additional context for the story and help to verify a person's relevance or credibility, especially if they’re posting pictures or other content from the scene.

Authority

Check the Twitter user’s bio. Is this a journalist? Is it a random person off the street? Is it a prankster? How about a comedian? Check their website or blog if they have one listed. See what you can learn about them. A tweet is only as good as its source.

Number of tweets

Be wary of new Twitter users. If it’s one of their first tweets, it could be anybody starting an account and claiming to have info on a breaking story. The newer the account is, the more skeptical you have to be.

Content of tweets

Check for context by examining the person’s Twitter stream. Go back several pages and see what they usually tweet about. Do they interact with people? Check the accounts they interact with for additional background on piecing together who this person might be. If they say they’re in Paris, were they talking about Paris a month ago?

Google them

Google their Twitter name because sometimes people use a Twitter handle as their user name on other sites. See if you can find a LinkedIn page, a Facebook page and other sites that tell you more about the writer. If they don’t list a full name on their Twitter page, and their user name doesn’t turn up much, you have reason to be more skeptical. The more information the person hides, the harder it is to know who they are. Likewise, the more open they are with info, the more likely they’re legitimate.

Check for related tweets

If someone says they heard an explosion in Lahore, what are other people in Lahore tweeting about? Check that and see if anyone else is reporting this. Chances are if a series of diverse people are tweeting about it at the same time - and they don’t appear related from looking at their accounts - something’s up.

Talk to them directly

Send an @ reply . Start following them and try to send a direct message. Get a conversation going. Ask for more information and build a relationship as best you can. This will help you create a profile of this person and piece together their connection to the story.

These are ways that Breaking Tweets works to verify a tweet. It’s all about context, really - the person’s past tweets, other tweets that support their tweet, seeking more information about them specifically, and seeking more information about the topic.  And of course the timing of the tweet is critical too.

If you stay on top of the tweets and follow these sorts of steps to verify tweets, you’ll be well on your way to finding great story tips and breaking news well before traditional methods.

The author, Craig Kanalley, runs Twitter Journalism where he tweets as @TwitJourn. Craig kindly also set up Breaking Tweets.



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