Social media can provide instant news faster than traditional news outlets or sources and can be a great wealth of information, but there is also an ever increasing need to verify and determine accuracy of this information. Here are some items to consider that can help determine authenticity:
- Location of the source - are they in the place they are tweeting or posting about?
- Network - who is in their network and who follows them? Do I know this account?
- Content - Can the information be corroborated from other sources?
- Contextual updates - Do they usually post or tweet on this topic? If so, what did past or updated posts say? Do they fill in more details?
- Age - What is the age of the account in question? Be wary of recently created accounts.
- Reliability - Is the source of information reliable?
Tips for Citing Social Media
Check the manuals for your style guide for the most up-to-date information. If your style guide doesn't cover it in print, then look to their online website to see if they've included some information there on proper citation for these social media formats. Also try our citing guide for more information or email your librarian.
According to Twitter, the site has more than 140 million active users, with over 340 million Tweets per day. This means that one billion tweets are sent every three days. More and more people get news and information from news media, but it's important to remember that fast does not always mean accurate.
How to identify credible information on social media can be challenging. Rumors and misinformation can spread quickly through social media outlets such as Twitter or Facebook. Some of the criteria used to evaluate Internet sources, such as being skeptical, asking questions, looking at the quality of the source of the information, still apply in social media. At the same time, a new and quicker way to exchange information, without some of the clues of authorship provided by more traditional online sources, means we can add some new techniques and approaches to evaluating information.
Storyful recently added four case studies that show how they verified online videos and other content for clients. From their blog:
"At Storyful, we interrogate content shared on the social web in a style not dissimilar Barber’s grilling of dignitaries of media and politics. We adopt a natural skepticism to every item of content we discover. Verification is a cornerstone of our work and it has to be. Information and content often spreads across social media in ‘Chinese whispers’ fashion. Videos and images are spliced, diced and re-posted. Context and details change, agendas compete. Falsehoods and fabrications are deliberately issued.
Within an hour of the Pacific tsunami alert being issued on April 11, 2012, Twitter and YouTube abounded with videos purporting to show monster waves striking the coast of Sumatra and Aceh in Indonesia. However, these were versions of the devastating 2004 tsunami and other dramatic videos, reissued with the 2012 date. In December 2011, when a police officer was killed at Virginia Tech in the US, a picture of the 2007 massacre was widely circulated as the 2011 event. In both instances, Storyful was quickly able to debunk this content as false."
Verifying information is important regardless of the type of social media outlet. Twitter is not immune to fake accounts. Recently, a manager from Google created a bot that attracted followers on Twitter. When the bot posted about a running injury, followers expressed concern over her injury. Wired initially reported on this story and it seems that the bot account has since been suspended. In an experiment conducted late last year, researchers created nine Twitter bots that were able to attract, on average, 62 followers each over a three-week period. This rise in the use of bots raises questions about how easy it might be for someone to try to influence news via social media outlets.
If you are unsure whether a social media post is from a person or bot, do not use the source.
Verifying Information from Social Media
Paul Bradshaw, a leading digital media expert and teacher in Europe, writes the Online Journalism Blog. In 2011, he wrote a post that provides a variety of basic guidelines about online verification with a section related to social media:
How long has the account existed? If it’s only existed since a relevant story broke (e.g. Jan Moir’s column; an earthquake where someone claims to be a witness) then it’s likely to be opportunistic.
Who did the person first ‘follow’ or ‘friend’? These should be personal contacts, or fit the type of person you’re dealing with. If their first follow is ReadWriteWeb, then it may be that you’re not actually dealing with a Daily Mail columnist.
Who first followed them? Likewise, it should be their friends and colleagues.
Who has spoken to them online? Ditto.
Who has spoken about them? Here you may find friends and colleagues, but also people who have rumbled them. But don’t take anyone else’s word for their existence unless you can verify them too.
Can you correlate this account with others? The Firefox extension Identify is a useful tool here: it suggests related social network accounts which you can then try to cross-reference. For companies the Chrome extension Polaris Insights does something similar for companies.