Posted in #HCSM, Twitter

In Tweets We Trust: Determining The Credibility Of Health Related Tweets

A 2012 paper by researchers from Microsoft and Carnegie Mellon University, “Tweeting Is Believing? Understanding Microblog Credibility Perceptions,”  analyzing how users assess a tweet’s credibility has implications for healthcare researchers, physicians. practitioners and patient advocates 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. They then ranked which factors lend the most credibility to a tweet, as well as which ones make them less credible.

The survey data was drawn from two sources:

1. Microsoft

  • respondents ranged in age from 18 – 60 (average age 32 years)
  • 29% female
  • 93.1% had a Twitter account, and all read tweets, with 91% reading them at least a few times a week, and 74% reading them at least once a day.

2. Carnegie Mellon University Alumni

  • respondents ranged in age from 18 – 54 years old.
  • 34% were female.
  • 88% had a Twitter account, and all read tweets, with 91% reading them at least a few times a week, and 77% reading them at least once a day.

Some of the key findings regarding users’ perceptions of tweet credibility include:

  • users are poor judges of truthfulness based on content alone, and instead are influenced by heuristics such as user name when making credibility assessments.
  • users represented by the default Twitter icon are perceived as significantly less credible than users with any other type of icon image.
  • a retweet by someone they trust is the biggest factor in increasing credibility

Of the 31 factors determining credibility investigated in the study, the following lists the top 10 factors  (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 verifiable 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. Account has a verification seal (3.92)
  6. Author tweets often on the topic (3.74)
  7. There are many other tweets with similar content (3.71)
  8. Author has a personal photo as the user image (3.70)
  9. Author is often mentioned or retweeted (3.69)
  10. Author is geographically near the topic (3.67)

The researchers also analyzed the least credible tweets and found the following factors influenced user perception:

  • Non-standard grammar or punctuation such as abbreviations commonly used in text messaging
  • Author has the default Twitter user image
  • Author has a cartoon or avatar as user image
  • Author is following too many users

What can we learn from this study?

“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….In the absence of the ability to distinguish truthfulness from the content alone, people must use other cues.”

Factors perceived as most enhancing a tweet’s credibility generally concerned the author of the tweet. These included author influence (as measured by follower, retweet, and mention counts,  topical expertise
(as established through a Twitter homepage bio, history of on topic tweeting, pages outside of Twitter, or having a location relevant to the topic of the tweet), and reputation (whether an author is someone a user follows, has heard of, or who has an official Twitter account verification seal).

Content related features viewed as credibility enhancing were containing a URL leading to a high quality site, and the existence of other tweets conveying similar information.

Aligning your Twitter profile to these cues will lend more credibility to your tweets.

  • always include a Twitter homepage bio
  • use your real name or one that is closely aligned to the main topic of tweeting
  • 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
  • add a verification seal (Twitter doesn’t accept requests for verification from the general public, but it will verify accounts emanating from universities, research institutions, etc)
  • provide a url to research, study or high quality information.
  • despite the 140 character space challenges of twitter, always use standard grammar and spelling
  • users tweeting on geographically  specific events should update their bio to accurately identify location

15 thoughts on “In Tweets We Trust: Determining The Credibility Of Health Related Tweets

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