How Reliable Is Twitter? [Research]

Twitter: Can You Separate Real From Fake Content?

Is Twitter Reliable-HeidiCohen While Twitter and related social media platforms have become the go-to resources for gathering information on real time events, the question must be asked: Are they reliable?

Twitter enables mass, time-sensitive communication. As such, it’s one of the first places journalists and marketers check for trending topics.

Aditi Gupta, Hemank Lamba and Ponnurangam Kumaraguru of the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology and IBM Research Labs answer this question in their paper, $1.00 per RT #BostonMarathon #PrayForBoston: Analyzing Fake Content on Twitter. They focused on fake content propagation on Twitter.

Starting 45 minutes after the Boston Marathon blasts in April 2013, the researchers analyzed 7.9 million tweets made by 3.7 million unique participants using Twitter APIs.

Speed matters on Twitter: The first tweet occurred within 3 minutes and the first photograph was posted within 4 minutes of the blasts. The top 20 tweets accounted for 6% of all Boston Marathon blast tweets and geo-location was included in 0.8% of the total tweets.

The researchers found:

  • 29% of the content on Twitter was rumors and fake content. This was the most viral content. Further, a large number of users with high social reputation and verified accounts were responsible for spreading fake content. 75% of fake tweets were sent via mobile phones. Fake tweets grew slowly during the first hour after the blasts because the sources were people with low credibility and unconfirmed Twitter identities. Once users with high reach retweeted the fake tweets, causing them to go viral, the growth curve became very steep.
  • 51% of the content on Twitter was generic opinions and comments.
  • 20% of the content on Twitter was true information.

Over 6,000 malicious Twitter user accounts were created during the Boston events and later suspended by Twitter. Creation of these negative Twitter profiles surged right after the blasts. Analysis of the interactions among the suspended profiles revealed a closed community structure. (To put this in context, roughly 4% of Twitter accounts are fake.)

5 Actionable Twitter tips to maintain your credibility

When it comes to breaking news, take your time to ensure your Twitter sources and their sources are credible because as the Boston marathon tweets revealed, it was credible sources that propagated the misinformation. Here are 5 Actionable Twitter Tips to help you maintain your credibility on social media.

  1. Build your trustworthiness on social media platforms. You can’t just show up and expect your audience to believe you. It takes on-going activity and engagement to build your following and credibility.
  2. Know your Twitter sources. Get to know the people you follow and interact with on Twitter so that you’re able to discern who’s who. (To help you, here are 24 guidelines to tweet by.)
  3. Take care when sharing breaking news. The analysis showed that malicious, fake Twitter accounts leveraged the desire of influential users to be at the forefront of news sharing. The findings revealed that many of the attributes of these phony accounts are easy to spot if you just take the time to check their Twitter profiles. How new are they to Twitter? Is their Twitter handle similar to the trending topic? Do they have links to their profiles on other social media and online platforms? Do they have more than a few followers? (Here are 20 ways to capitalize on breaking news.)
  4. Contribute only after you’ve verified the facts. Being an active social media participant means that you must be responsible and think beyond being the first one to share information. This means checking your facts before distributing breaking news.
  5. Be sensitive to the impact of your tweets. Think beyond your followers to the broader Twitterverse. Realize that your participation can have unintended consequences. Therefore, remember that social media implies social responsibility.

On Twitter, fake news tends to be more viral than the truth. Therefore it’s important to do your homework before sharing trending information.

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen


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Photo Credit: (c) 2013 Heidi Cohen – All rights reserved. Use of image granted if you link to this post.

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One Response to How Reliable Is Twitter? [Research]

  1. Hi Heidi. Great article! To build trust on Twitter, I’d recommend telling behind-the-scenes company stories and introducing the members of your team. It makes customers feel more comfortable with who they’re spending money with. Starbucks has a separate Twitter account to share employees’ stories, called “Starbucks Partners.” It shows their store events or daily work to highlight how they help or entertain their customers.