How to vet information on Twitter

Image courtesy State Library of Queensland, Australia

When news breaks, it now often breaks on Twitter. In the throes of a national or international emergency or other breaking news, a lot of information comes pouring in quickly. Unfortunately, there is always bad information mixed in with the good. Here are some tips for making sure information is solid before you act on it, or choose to share it with others:

  • First: check the source. Is it a reputable news publication (The New York Times), or is it a publication known for publishing joke content (The Onion), or pushing out anything they think will get the most views (The National Enquirer)? If you don’t know, don’t act on it or retweet it. 
  • Take everything with a grain of salt. Even the biggest publications feel pressure to keep everyone updated, especially via social media, so they may share information that isn’t confirmed with authorities yet, or has been misinterpreted.
  • On that note, look for retractions or updates on claims, and remember that “allegedly”, “reportedly” or “hearing reports” doesn’t mean something has been confirmed. “Sources say” isn’t solid if you don’t know who the sources are.
  • Search hashtags to find repeated links and information; this can often show you the origination of a claim so you can see if it’s reliable. When breaking news is happening, hashtags will likely flood your feed and start trending. If they don’t, see which hashtags trusted publications are using, then search those.
  • News outlets will likely tell you which reporters they have in the area, or will confirm information from people who are tweeting on the ground.
  • Check Snopes. They quickly list and categorize anything that might be an unfounded conspiracy theory, or that needs confirmation. Sometimes old fake photographs resurface too, as these did during Hurricane Sandy in the fall of 2012.
  • Finally, be cautious of scams. While the best parts of humanity will reach out to help during a natural disaster or other tragedy, others will try to profit by creating false charities or funds. Verify before you donate with sources like Charity Navigator.

If you do share something that turns out to be false or unverified, say so and commit to sharing only the best information moving forward. Consider just listening until the situation becomes clearer, then use Twitter and other social media to see how you can help, no matter where you are.