Tweeting is Believing? Understanding Microblog Credibility Perceptions

Ringel Morris, M., Counts, S., Roseway, A., Hoff, A., Schwarz. (2012). Tweeting is believing? Understanding microblog credibility perception. CSCW. Seattle, Washington, USA.


Twitter is now used to distribute substantive content such as breaking news, increasing the importance of assessing the credibility of tweets. As users increasingly access tweets through search, they have less information on which to base credibility judgments as compared to consuming content from direct social network connections. We present survey results regarding users’ perceptions of tweet credibility. We find a disparity between features users consider relevant to credibility assessment and those currently revealed by search engines. We then conducted two experiments in which we systematically manipulated several features of tweets to assess their impact on credibility ratings. We show that users are poor judges of truthfulness based on content alone, and instead are influenced by heuristics such as user name when making credibility assessments. Based on these findings, we discuss strategies tweet authors can use to enhance their credibility with readers (and strategies astute readers should be aware of!). We propose design improvements for displaying social search results so as to better convey credibility.

This paper arose from work presented at CSCW 2012 which is the 2012 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. It is a collaboration between Microsoft researchers and researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. It seeks to ask how people who use twitter determine credibility. This is important in a growing “twittersphere” and is important for knowledge brokers as we engage social media tools in our practice. As brokers move into twitter this paper can help address important questions:

  • How does someone determine you are a credible source of information?
  • How do you know someone is a credible source of information?
  • What steps can you take to enhance that credibility?

Social media is an increasingly important tool that also has risks; however, there are different forms of peer review and different definitions of expert all requiring enhanced need for critical consumption and critical production of content. In a hyper connected world the World Economic Forum recently identified Digital Wild Fires as a global threat. This is such a new phenomenon that there isn’t even a Wikipedia entry as of the time of writing (January 9, 2013).

All the more need for brokers to be able to determine credibility on twitter.

The researchers did primary data collection on a variety of twitter users and also designed experiments using mock tweets to assess the drivers of assessment of credibility.

Check out Table 1 in the paper for all the 31 features examined. The top 10 in determining credibility include:

  • It is a re-tweet from someone you trust
  • Author has verifiable expertise
  • Author is someone you follow
  • Author is someone you’ve heard of
  • Account has a verification seal
  • Author tweets often on the topic
  • Author has many tweets on the same topic
  • Personal photo as avatar
  • Author often mentioned and RT
  • Author is geographically near the topic

The authors make a number of recommendations to enhance your own credibility as a tweeter. These include:

  • Using a name that is closely aligned to the main topic of tweeting (such as @researchimpact for the main ResearchImpact twitter feed)
  • Use a recognizable icon or a personal image, avoid the default twitter icon
  • Build a large follower base
  • Keep tweets focused on a single topic or related topics

What the authors don’t discuss is the relationship between these. Clearly building a large follower base is dependent on credibility; therefore, you can’t obtain that without attending to the other recommendations.

Building a large follower base is also relative. No knowledge broker or knowledge intermediary organization will ever match Justin Beiber or Lady GaGa. One good place to start looking at leading tweeters are those listed in the 2012 edition of the Canadian Knowledge Mobilization 100. The report states, “Social Media produced a broad range of responses. When asked: Who is your top tweeter on Twitter? and Who else do you follow using social media?, the top response was “don’t use Twitter” (there was no space for “why not” but it would be an interesting follow up question) followed by: @researchimpact,  @bonniezink@KMBeing@peterlevesque,@ccph2010, @colleen_young, @ProcessPathways,@SteerCareer, @LSEImpactblog, @NIHforHealth,@KMbW_Updates, @hjarche,@NatureNews@sigeneration@MobilizeShawna@MdC_UQAM@researchgirlca@buddhall.

Some of these have thousands of followers but no more than@LSEImpactblog which has over 7,000 followers. I’m not going to include @NIHforHealth and @NatureNews which are off the scale at over 300,000 and 475,000 followers respectively.

This article is part of the emerging critical scholarship on twitter and social media. It is a bandwagon and lots are jumping on it but we also have community and institutional researchers doing some critical thinking about social media. We produced a book chapter on our use of social media in knowledge mobilization. There is even a bibliography of over 190 articles on twitter, most of the journal articles or conference proceedings. Check that out for more critical thinking on the use of twitter.

Questions for brokers:

  1. If you’re not on twitter, why not? Consider your two different perspectives as you might have different answers. Why aren’t you on twitter for your own personal practice?  Why aren’t you on twitter for your institutional practice?
  2. I can tell you from personal experience that it is hard for me to quantify the return on my investment in twitter.  I have never brokered a single collaboration through my work on twitter but I know I am a better broker because of the literature I see on twitter, some of which I have written about in this journal club and on our blog. But that’s my experience.  If you are on twitter how do you know your investment is paying off?  What do you use to measure success?

ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR) is producing this journal club series as a way to make the evidence on KMb more accessible to knowledge brokers and to create on line discussion about research on knowledge mobilization. It is designed for knowledge brokers and other knowledge mobilization stakeholders. Read the article. Then come back to this post and join the journal club by posting your comments.

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