Study: The most credible tweets come from people we trust, follow

Twitter users place the most faith in items retweeted by someone they trust, according to recent research, a finding that should make journalists and other influencers cautious about passing along suspect information.

"A retweet from someone you trust" is the biggest single factor in lending credibility to information on Twitter, according to a scientific study by researchers from Microsoft and Carnegie Mellon University.

The researchers set out to discover what exactly a Twitter user weighs when she evaluates information discovered through her timeline or a Twitter search. They ranked which factors lend the most credibility to a tweet, as well as which ones make them less credible.

Here are the most credible factors, followed by the average credibility impact score (a 1-5 rating of how much credibility the factor creates, 5 being the highest).

  1. A retweet from someone you trust (4.08)
  2. Author has demonstrated expertise in the subject (4.04)
  3. Author is someone you follow (4.00)
  4. It contains a link to a source (3.93)
  5. Author is someone you've heard of (3.93)
  6. Author's identity is verified by Twitter (3.92)
  7. Author often tweets on that topic (3.74)
  8. There are many other tweets with similar content (3.71)
  9. Author has a personal photo as the user image (3.70)
  10. Author is often mentioned or retweeted (3.69)
  11. Author's location is near the topic (3.67)

And here are the factors that impart the least credibility to a tweet:

  1. Non-standard grammar or punctuation (2.71)
  2. Author has the default Twitter user image (2.87)
  3. Author has a cartoon or avatar as user image (3.22)
  4. Author is following too many users (3.30)

If you want your tweets to be believed, focus on firming up your Twitter account's bona fides. Get your profile picture in shape, use proper grammar, establish a history of tweeting on key topics, and aim to have others retweet you. Of course a retweet carries your message to more people, but now we also know the retweet can impart even more credibility.

In addition to measuring how Twitter users evaluate credibility, the study tracked whether participants were correct in determining the accuracy of a tweet. Sadly, they often were not.

"Participants were poor at determining whether a tweet was true or false, regardless of experience with Twitter."
"In the absence of the ability to distinguish truthfulness from the content alone, people must use other cues. Given that Twitter users only spend 3 seconds reading any given tweet, users may be more likely to make systematic errors in judgment due to minimal 'processing' time."

Earlier: Should journalists confirm information before passing it along on Twitter? (Poynter) | How to verify – and when to publish – news accounts posted on social media (Poynter) | Incorrect information travels farther, faster on Twitter than corrections

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    Jeff Sonderman

    Jeff Sonderman is the deputy director of the American Press Institute, helping to lead its use of research, tools, events, and strategic insights to advance and sustain journalism.


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