Let’s begin by asking, could you find original witness tweets on Twitter about the crash of Malaysia Airlines MH17 in Ukraine?

It is not enough to pick the correct search words to obtain swift results. Instead, it requires narrowing the search and using the search operators offered by Twitter. Let’s look through these operators and their functions.

The simplest operators – And & Or – are helping us to use words in queries in various combinations. For instance, the search query Merkel OR cats will find tweets containing at least one of these words. Merkel AND cats – will narrow the search for tweets containing both of the words together. In order to exclude a particular word, a search dash symbol before the word is needed: Merkel -cats.

Often for information verification, we need to find a tweet of some particular user. There is a special operator – from – that makes this search easy. By using it and a username, we can quickly find a tweet that we are interested in. If we are looking for, for instance, tweets from Barack Obama concerning gay marriage, our query would be from:BarackObama gay marriage. At the same time there is the possibility to search through the tweets sent to a particular user. Such a search would be to:BarackObama gay marriage.

By adding @BarackObama to a request, we would find tweets in which the U.S. President’s username is mentioned.

A lesser known resource – not even mentioned by Twitter – for clearing search results of unwanted information is to set a number of re-tweets and favorites in your query. For Grexit min_retweets:10 OR min_faves:10, we will see only those tweets with a keyword that was re-tweeted or “favorited” at least 10 times.

To place search words within a quote, a Twitter algorithm will find tweets containing an exact word or phrase from the quote. For example, the queries “Whymycatissad” and “Why my cat is sad” would present different results on Twitter.

For a search from a particular place it is possible to use the operator near. By adding within:4km we can reduce an area of search. It is important to remember that there should be no space between operator and value.

Recently, I was interested in tweets regarding new Kyiv police patrols. We can’t get much information about that with a simple police query, unless we add a search operator near to it. By searching with police near:Kyiv within:4km we can find photos from Kyiv of the new policemen and women.

Nonetheless, this may not be enough if the Twitter feed was full of tweets posted by media outlets. This may complicate the search if we are looking for regular users’ tweets instead of news. We can use filter then. By adding a dash before this operator – police near:Kyiv within:4km -filter:links – we exclude all tweets containing URLs. This significantly reduces tweets from newsrooms.

What makes the results even more precise is searching by geographical coordinates with a geocode. The Itouchmap service might be useful in order to locate the longitude and latitude you are interested in. Just paste a mark on a map and the service will calculate the corresponding coordinates. Within a search query, a search area should be separated by a comma with no space between.

Among other things, Twitter also offers searches by photo or video (special tabs on a search page or filter:images, filter:videos). However, in some cases it is more useful to choose source. With this operator it is possible to search for a tweet posted via SMS or Twitter-client, for example (tweet_button, txt, etc). But you can also search through photos imported from Instagram – source: instagram police.

Another important tool for Twitter searches is time framing, which is possible to set using the since and until operators. The order for setting the date is Harlem Shake until:2010-01-01 – this will show you tweets containing “Harlem Shake” and are not related to the viral video meme.

However, the operators offered by Twitter give the opportunity to search not only curious facts about internet memes or trends. This is also a powerful tool for information mining and its verification. The better we combine a few operators in a search query, the more information we can get from a feed of millions of tweets. For instance, if we add the word «самолет» (plane), geographical coordinates of city of Torez with 40 km radius, and restrict to the dates of July 17-18, 2014 –

самолет geocode:48.035569,38.755646,40km since:2014-07-17 until:2014-07-18, –

then, even after one year, we can easily find a photo taken by a witness and published a few minutes after flight MH 17 was shot down.

 

Most of the operators mentioned above would also work with a dash. In this way, we can exclude a particular location, a user, or – as mentioned – a word and links.

Twitter also sorts tweets by analysing emoticons and question marks. By adding :), 🙁 or a question mark to the search, we will receive positive or negative comments and questions.

Last but not least, another important function is saving search queries and keeping all of the parameters. This is quite handy if we need to monitor tweets by the same search query periodically. In order to save search parameters, we need to go to “Other options” on the page with search results and choose “Save this search.” Next time we click on the search box we will see our saved search queries in a drop-down menu. There is also an external tool that can save, not just a search query, but also the results – tweet screenshots with analysis of the most related hashtags, terms, and links. However, the drawback of twXplorer is that the service saves only the most recent 500 tweets. And it doesn’t support search operators.

With the “Advanced search” tab we can search in a particular language (about 50 languages available). We can also find all of the functions reviewed above. But still, it is the operators that make a search easier. By learning a few additional functions, we can speed up our searches. This saves a lot of time that would be wasted by scrolling through never-ending feeds of tweets.

By Taras Nazaruk, for Stopfake.org.