A credibility researcher’s dream app hit the Chrome store this week. TweetCred is an extension for your browser that uses a computer algorithm to assign from one to seven stars to each tweet based on its expected credibility.
The TweetCred score is an indicator of the trustworthiness of the information in the tweet, credibility of resources (pictures, videos, URLs) shared; and the popularity and reputation of the user of the tweet.
I’ve read a lot of research about credibility and all the problems audiences, researchers and computers have measuring it. So, when I first read about TweetCred on the Washington Post’s Style blog, I immediately thought of the portion of research papers where you are supposed to detail the practical implications. Authors usually put a futuristic statement in there about “If there was some tool that could help Internet users assess credibility….” without actually expecting it to happen.
I was curious – and maybe dubious – of an algorithm really being able to detect credibility based on the mechanical data supplied by Twitter. So, I installed it. And I tested it on a completely objective topic “Who will go all the way: Pens or Blackhawks?”
I follow neither of these accounts. @SidGenoNealer47 has 99 followers. @Hawooot has 421 followers and thousand more tweets than @SidGenoNealer47. So, two of the biggest cues we would use judge the credibility of the accounts fall on the side of the Blackhawks believer. Yet, the Pens tweet gets more stars (I admit these are oddly shaped stars. I am unable to discern exactly how many points each shape has.)
So, now I’m convinced of the veracity of this extension’s ability to pick who will meet Lord Stanley.
But, maybe I’m not convinced on other topics just yet.
The extension is machine learning – meaning the more people use it, the more accurate it will be. But, because of the cues it uses, right now it tends to underrate the credibility of most tweets. A tweet from the Boston Globe about the Red Sox game got three stars. I’m pretty sure the Globe has at least five-stars worth of authority on all matters Fenway. Most of my own tweets got between three and five stars – and I told the truth all day. After all, I was at an ethics conference.
In the time I’ve used the extension, I haven’t yet seen a seven-star tweet. The closest was a tweet from Reuters that got six.
While TweetCred might be helpful as a supplement cue for some people, I think a better approach to improving credibility is to create a credibility-literate Twittersphere. We know audiences process information to make credibility judgements by relying on cues. Which cues a person uses depends on factors such as existing knowledge about the topic, interest in the topic, familiarity with the source, and style of writing (bureaucratic format vs. news format, for example).
For most tweets, we’ll accept the credibility of the message. It’s too much work to question everything. And, by creating our own network of accounts that deliver us messages, we do most of the grunt work to choose credible messages when we examine the cues of an account to decide to follow it.
But, we need to remain skeptical.
Remember when the Associated Press was hacked and tweeted about explosions at the White House? I was teaching when it happened, and my students immediately questioned the validity of the tweet because it didn’t follow AP style. I was so proud.
We all need an internal TweetCred.