How to follow news on Twitter with Hoaxy
Twitter is the primary source of news, gossip, information and misinformation for millions of people around the world. If you follow the right accounts, you can keep up with the latest developments before the mainstream media puts the fact-checkers out of bed.
But how does information spread on Twitter and how can you assess its credibility?
Don’t trust everything you read on Twitter
Twitter is the digital home of billions of people with diverse opinions, agendas, views and motivations. While you want to share interesting facts and articles, others want to spread discord and lies, or simply don’t care if what they’re repeating is valid.
Most of the time, the accounts are not managed by people at all. Rather, they are bots, automated accounts programmed to increase the visibility of tweets from certain keywords or other specific accounts.
In the seconds between reading an entertaining or informative tweet and clicking a button to deliver it to your audience, it’s hard to judge whether you’re sharing a valuable resource or misinformation. Fortunately, there is a tool that can help you.
A trick can help you visualize the origin of a tweet
Hoaxy is a joint project of the Indiana University Network Science Institute (IUNI) and the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research (CNetS). It uses Twitter’s search API to visualize the spread of information.
As the name suggests, Hoaxy is designed with disinformation in mind. In addition to showing the origin of certain tweets, the tool can show whether retweets were made by (most likely) real human-managed accounts or automated accounts (bots).
You can either write a query directly to Hoaxy or upload a set of keywords in a CSV or JSON file. Results are displayed in easy-to-understand color-coded graphs and charts. You can even play animations to better appreciate the spread of information over time.
To use Hoaxy, you must log in to your Twitter account and allow Hoaxy to use it. Creating a Twitter account is easy if you don’t already have one. Once logged in, go to the Hoaxy homepage and enter a search query in the text box.
Your query can be a word or phrase like “Happy New Year” or a link to an article. You can also import data. An example given by Hoaxy to demonstrate how research works is “vaccines”.
You can limit your search to tweets in a specific language and use advanced search operators. For example, if you’re looking for tweets that mention “Christmas” or “Santa,” you’d type “Christmas or Santa” (without the quotes). If you want to search for tweets written in response to the initiative official MakeUseOf Twitter accountyou can add it: MUO_official.
As a first test for Hoaxy, we’ve pasted the URL to our article on how cheat.sh gives you access to the best Linux and programming cheat sheets.
As you can see in the image above, the screen is divided into two main parts. On the left you can see the popularity of an article over time. Below this area is a flattened version of the same chart that you can select and drag over the time period you’re interested in to get more detailed information.
The main part of the screen shows which accounts have tweeted or retweeted this article, representing the relationship between the accounts. The arrow indicates which account the tweet or retweet is from.
One of the nicest features of Hoaxy is that each account is color-coded according to its likelihood of being automated. A blue color indicates that the account is more likely to exhibit typical human behavior, while a red color indicates that the account is more robot-like.
In the center of our demo chart is the MundoLinuxBot account that retweeted the post five times. If you click on this account and press updateyou will see that Hoaxy gives MundoLinuxBot a score of 3.5 out of 5 and is 80% confident that MundoLinuxBot is an account automation. You will also see the names of the accounts MundoLinuxBot retweeted from that particular link.
Using the time selection tool, you can go back seven days from the date of your query and see that the first tweet mentioning this article was made by Wajeeha65827865 at 4:03 am with a bot score of 4.7/5. On December 23, MUO_official publishes the article 11 hours later.
You can watch the map and account links progress by pressing the triangular play button in the center.
Hoaxy allows you to observe the spread of information on Twitter
Using Hoaxy allows you to see how information is first uploaded to Twitter and then distributed between accounts. It can be an important tool in combating potential disinformation and finding the true source of rumours.
But Hoaxy isn’t perfect and will never be able to tell you with 100% certainty whether something is true or false, or whether a particular account is a bot. You should use it with caution and take its results as an indication only. If you come across harmful misinformation on Twitter, follow our guide to countering it effectively.