This presentation, and those for each of the remaining six research topics to be discussed this term, is intended to serve as a complement to the highly instructive research guides prepared by Barbara Gray and housed on the J-School’s Research Center. You are encouraged to take full advantage of both.
Yes, it’s true, journalists are increasingly looking to the resources of social media to report, research, suss out sources and contacts, find interview prospects and essentially go all out in the attempt to add timeliness and value to their published work.
That said, as journalists, you are expected to bring to the social media table, all of the requisite skepticism you so doggedly employ when using the traditional research tools of your trade.
Before you make the decision to use content you’ve gathered via social media ask and bust your chops to answer these four basic questions:
- Is this the original piece of content?
- Who uploaded the content? (source)
- When was the content created? (date)
- Where was the content created? (location)
One of the best resources for verifying the accuracy of content found on social media (especially those of the breaking news variety), is the Verification Handbook. We’ll revisit this discussion shortly. This handbook and several other tools are included in Barbara Gray’s excellent Tipsheet for Social Media Research and Newsgathering.
It’s also worth mentioning that as journalists, you should not rely solely on social media resources to tell the story; be prepared to use them in combination with traditional, and other people search tools.
In that vein, if you’re caught in the grip of a breaking news story, and are desperate to contact a source(s), if you have a name, then consider Spokeo or Thatsthem as ports of first call. They may each prove quite useful in quickly finding your subject’s social media footprint.
- Spokeo. Try the J-School’s paid version for name searches. Password available once you sign in with your WordPress protocols. Spokeo mines social networks and public records data to return search results that usually include email addresses, telephone numbers, usernames and relatives
- Thatsthem. Like Spokeo, Thatsthem helps you to find the person with the information you have (username, email, phone number). Free search.
TIP: The content of public records databases will always be there; not so for social media content. In times of controversy, scandal, inappropriate comments – disappearing tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram images, and even personal sites and pages are more the norm than the exception. Go after those social media profiles first – grab that screen or snap shot asap.
Barbara Gray’s tipsheet suggests:
- Evernote.com captures your web research in a single hub you can access anywhere. Download the Web Clipper for Chrome, it will take a snapshot of a page and file it in your notes.
Using Facebook for Reporting and Newsgathering
Facebook’s subscribers have populated their pages with the nuggets from their lives that provide rich color, and are the very tools the intrepid journalist can use to suss out information about a source, and this information can often be transferred to other social platforms:
name, hometown, phone, email, username, current and past employment, aliases, family members, friends, birthday, posts, photos, groups, likes, current and previous residence, schools attended, sexual preference, gender, relationship, anniversary, languages, places visited, events attended or plan to attend, networks. This is good grist for the journalist
Facebook Graph Search
- Facebook Graph Use the search bar at the top of your Facebook page to search for connections between people and things.
- Search by name, school, workplace, friends, interests, etc.
- Searches profiles, pages, public posts,check-ins, photo captions, etc.
- Use Google’s superior search engine to search for text within links and URLs. Use the ‘site’ operator and add keywords, or names, e.g. site:facebook.com LaVoy Finicum
- If you are trying to contact someone who is a member of a closed group, e.g. Polar Bear Friends, try messaging or friending the group’s administrator and ask that he/she post a query for you.
- To avoid having your message land in the FB user’s ‘other’ folder, you can send a direct message to his/her FB inbox for a charge of only $1.
Using Twitter for Reporting and Newsgathering
Twitter search tools
Those of you who are familiar with Google’s advanced search page will feel quite at home with Twitter Advanced Search Page. Take full advantage of this template to help you filter your searches by location, user, date.
When you construct your search, Andy Carvin at Reported.ly suggests you use language you would expect the Tweeter to use. In the case of breaking news, consider keywords like fire, explosion, gunshots; and combine them with expletives that usually populate tweets from real time disasters, criminal acts and acts of terror – WTF, shit, fuck – or terms like omg! Add a location search – near: Lincoln Center.
Daniel Victor at the New York Times suggests you:
- Search for personal stories; include the words: me, I or my
Sample Search: I building safe OR ok OR okay to find “I was in the building but I’m safe”: I, safe, OK
- Try to find someone who knows a person in the news: my sister OR brother OR cousin OR friend OR neighbor OR father OR mother OR uncle OR aunt OR colleague
Tagged on the site as ‘a smarter way to search Twitter’, TwXplorer (sign in with your Twitter protocols) lets you find tweets on topic, and that’s where the similarities with a traditional Twitter search end. The results of a TwXplorer search show the most recent tweets, commonly used terms, hashtags and the mostly frequently shared links. TwXplorer also offers the option to search Twitter Lists you have created or are subscribed to. A great way to stay current with news about your beats. When you click on any term, hashtag or link in your search result, TwXplorer returns only the subset of search results containing the term you clicked on. The ‘saved snapshots’ option helps you (especially with breaking news) to save your search for later viewing.
Sample Search: NYC Homeless; Weiner Documentary; Bloomberg for President. (review results).
- It’s all about connections. Compare/analyze followers and friends with Twiangulate. This tool can prove quite useful if you are following a particular beat, and want to add valuable sources to your Twitter List.
Sample Search: Find Twitter profiles followed by both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders
Sample Search: Look for Twitter followers of both Barbara Gray and Margot Williams
A list is a curated group of Twitter users. You can create your own lists or subscribe to lists created by others. Viewing a list timeline will show you a stream of Tweets from only the users on that list.
Note: Lists are used for reading Tweets only. You cannot send or direct a Tweet to members of a list, for only those list members to see.
To create a list: (In class ‘do now’)
- Go to your Lists page. This can be done via your profile picture drop down menu in the top right navigation bar or by going to your profile page and clicking on Lists, also in the right hand navigation bar.
- Click Create list.
- Enter the name of your list, a short description of the list, and select if you want the list to be private (only accessible to you) or public (anyone can subscribe to the list). E.G. Name: BK12 Description: Useful Information for Residents of Brooklyn’s Community District 12
- Click Save list.
You can now comb Twitter for persons with expertise or organizations with similar interest and add same to your list(s).
TwitterTip: If you add someone to a list but DON’T follow them, they will not receive a notification that they have been added to a list and will not know that they are being monitored via a list. Really helpful if you are doing investigative reporting.
Tweetdeck Twitter’s social media dashboard is a lovely housekeeping tool. Sign in with your personal Twitter account at to get started. TweetDeck allows you the flexibility to create columns to display specific content that interest you – Twitter Lists, Mentions, , the results of a search query, a list of favorites, the latest Tweets from a hashtag or trend, etc.
All My Tweets
A useful tool for the investigative reporter is All My Tweets. Sign in with your Twitter account; enter a username, and search for all of a user’s tweets on one page. Option available to filter out retweets and to hide replies
Sample Search: Find all the tweets sent by City Council leader Melissa Mark-Viverito ( username: @mmviverito)
Hashtags: First Use
Are you trying to find the first time that a popular hashtag was used on Twitter? Have a go at Who Tweeted it First – search keywords or a link to see who tweeted it first.
Sample Search: #blacklivesmatter
Looking for someone’s first tweet? If it’s a public profile, MyFirstTweet will find it. This link shows the result of a search for Barbara Gray’s first tweet.
- Google or Bing Cache may search using URL
- Search Twitter, Google or Bing for Retweet using words in the Tweet
- Snapbird search a user’s Tweets, and can find deleted Tweets if you’re early.
Best practices suggest a search of Google, using the ‘site’ function, to find pictures/photos of (breaking) news events that have been posted on Instagram.
Sample Search: site:instagram.com “new york city marathon”.
If the Instagram account holder has a Twitter account, a link will usually be provided; easy way to send a tweet requesting additional information, an interview, or permission to use the photo.
It’s worth mentioning that Gramfeed allows you to search hastags and locations
LinkedIn Social Search
- Join LinkedIn for Journalists
- Advanced search (must be logged in to use this direct link) can search by keyword, name, location, current or past employees
- Alumni search can search for classmates at a certain school, during a certain time period
- If you can’t see a name in a profile on Twitter or LinkedIn try an “X-Ray Search” – just copy and paste the details from their profile into Bing or Google
A Word about Geolocating
Verifying the location of social media content is a very important requisite before going to print or uploading that photo or video.; and not all social media is geolocated. Twitter provides the option to include ‘location’ on the advanced search page, but the experts say it is not foolproof.
The Verification Handbook offers some practical ways to attempt to certify the veracity of the content; I’ve pasted some of them here, and I encourage you to read Chapter 9 (Creating a Verification Process and Checklist(s))
- Find reference points to compare with satellite imagery and geolocated photographs, such as:
- Signs/lettering on buildings, street signs, car registration plates, billboards, etc. Use Google Translate or free.orc.com for online translation.
- Distinctive streetscape/landscape such as mountain range, line of trees, cliffs, rivers, etc.
- Landmarks and buildings such as churches, minarets, stadiums, bridges, etc.
- Use Google Street View or Google Maps’ “Photos” function to check if geolocated photographs match the image/video location.
- Use Google Earth to examine older images/videos, as it provides a history of satellite images. Use Google Earth’s terrain view.
- Use Wikimapia, the crowdsourced version of Google Maps, to identify landmarks.
- Weather conditions such as sunlight or shadows to find approximate time of day. Use Wolfram Alpha to search weather reports at specific time and place.
- License/number plates on vehicles
Source: Verification Handbook.
More Verification Tools & Techniques
- Breaking News and Social Verification Mandy Jenkins, Storyful at ONA
- Google Reverse image Search fcheck to see if an image has been used before – right-click on the picture and copy to Google image search, or drop it into TinEye, and select the biggest version of the image
- Jeffrey’s Exif Viewer find a photo’s metadata, including time, date and type of camera used
- How Storyful Verifies Images – using Google Image reverse search and Exif viewers
- Storyful ebook: Social Newsgathering
- Foller Me analyzes the latest tweets from a user’s profiles to provide additional information about him/her. Search with username
Sample Search: @ BarbGray