First Click: Using TweetDeck filters to make sense of the senselessness

November 17th, 2015


It started with a single entry in my Twitter feed:

"#BREAKING Multiple attacks in Paris, at least 18 dead, police say."

Within 30 minutes Twitter became an unbearable river of panic, disbelief, and sadness as events in Paris unfolded. Some of the information shared was factual, some speculative, and some was plain false. But mostly, Twitter was flooded with desperate cries of hope and support. For anyone trying to figure out what was happening, Twitter quickly devolved into well-meaning noise.

Fortunately, I’ve been running a newsroom long enough that I’m privy to a trick or two when it comes to filtering information. One of my favorites requires TweetDeck, that weird, sometimes intimidating Twitter client your nerdier friends swear by. TweetDeck filters can be very powerful tools that are simple to setup once you’ve grown accustomed to the clumsy interface. I often use filters to eliminate chatter around sporting events and for blocking potential spoilers about TV shows or movies. But they can also serve a far greater purpose.

Here’s the filter I created Friday evening as events in Paris were unfolding:

tweetdeck filter paris

This filter only shows tweets with media (links, images, or video) from "verified users" with "at least 20 retweets" (I steadily increased the value to over 100 as more of the world joined the conversation). The end result was a Twitter stream focused on professional news organizations, political figures, journalists, and municipal organizations like police and fire departments — Twitter accounts accustomed to vetting information before sharing it publicly. And by refining the filter with retweets, it injects some crowd wisdom into the equation by only showing tweets that others felt worthy to share.

The tweets below illustrate how this works. The first would be blocked because the person who erroneously shared a photo from the aftermath of January’s Charlie Hebdo attack isn’t verified.

Instead, this verified tweet from the Empire State Building would be shown:

The filter isn’t perfect. Plenty of certified accounts were tweeting noise as well. But viewing events through a well designed TweetDeck filter can help cut through the noise and hopefully generate less of it in the process. At the very least, it’ll help you make sense of the senselessness the next time tragedy strikes.

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