Bot or not? How to tell if that person subtweeting you is real

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The world looks different from the eye of a tweetstorm. When I signed up to speak on a Gamergate panel set up by the Society of Professional Journalists two years ago, I expected things to get weird. But when they did, I wasn’t prepared. 

The number of tweets that included my name overran my notifications. I was doxxed. I found myself wishing I had tools to figure out who was tweeting at me.

Plenty of journalists are in this situation. Whether it’s one relentless tweeter or legions of upset strangers who come out of nowhere, the reality is that Twitter makes it hard to know much about the people (or bots) spamming your name. I wish Henk van Ess had written this guide to learning more about Twitter users sooner. 

THE MORE YOU KNOW: My favorite tool from van Ess’ toolkit is Account Analysis, which looks at all of a Twitter user’s public tweets and provides an analysis through easy-to-grasp visualizations. It’s helpful for anyone trying to learn more about another user, whether you want to make sure someone is legit before you embed a tweet in a story, fact-check a bold claim or attempt to identify whether an assailant is a person or a programmed script.

FOLLOWUP: Last week, I wrote about WNYC’s brilliant Audiogram tool that turns audio into video for social sharing. Some of you wrote back to say that it seemed useful, but it was too hard to set up. Never fear. A company called Sparemin used WNYC’s code to create a version that anyone can use (though it took a while to render for me). And Wavve offers a similar tool with premium features, if you’re into that sort of thing. And if you enjoyed Listen Notes, the podcast search engine, but found yourself wanting more features like searching through Alexa or Google Home, check out Audioburst.

ADVICE: My newsletters are often written in airport bars, hotel lounges or far-flung corners of universities. I’ve learned that when websites refuse to load, it’s often not because they’re down. Many networks block sites but don’t tell you that they’re blocked. That’s why I keep Down For Everyone Or Just Me bookmarked. If the site is up, I switch to my phone’s Wi-Fi network to access it.

PICTURE THIS: What happens when a bunch of video industry professionals get together and focus on the future? You get LumaFusion for iOS. I’ve been editing videos on iPhones and iPads for years, and I can’t recall a single other app that offers the professional video experience at a reasonable price (it’s regularly 40 bucks but half price right now). LumaFusion offers a lot of what iMovie and other video editing tools don’t: Insert and overwrite mode, a five-point color adjuster, the ability to import fonts for titles and dozens of other powerful features.

BAD NEWS: Speaking of iPhones, it turns out that it’s pretty easy for third parties to spoof a system dialog to make you enter your password. To make sure it’s legit, close the app. If the dialog closes too, it’s fake. Better yet, close out all system dialogs and take a trip to your settings to re-enter credentials instead.

ON MY RADAR: Reddit has always been tricky for journalists. We obviously want to share our work with audiences that care. Subreddits offer highly specific topics with loads of interested people all in one place, but most have “reddiquette” or rules against posting your own work. But Reddit just expanded user profiles to allow users to post directly to their own profiles. Users who follow you will see those posts. The Washington Post’s is a great example. To sign up, log in or create a new account and visit the Profile Pages beta.

SOLICITING FEEDBACK: A few months back, we wrote about an audio transcription tool developed by two Dublin college students. The response from journalists was so overwhelming that we crashed their site. We’ve heard positive and negative feedback from many of you since then, with many wondering which of the many available transcription tools is the best. We’re going to put it to the test. In the coming week or so, we’ll try out the top tools and report back on which is most effective. If you’d like to suggest one to add to the list, let us know.

LAST WEEK: It turns out that building a chatbot just requires a little imagination and a whole lot of plus and minus characters. I talked with my colleagues about how just about anyone can use a tool called Dexter (recommended a few months ago by Quartz Bot Studio) to build a bot. 

Learn more about journalism tools with Try This! — Tools for Journalism. Try This! is powered by Google News Lab. It is also supported by the American Press Institute and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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