23 February 2018

Research on Water Topics using Social Media on the Internet

Executive Summary

A lot of new information - pictures, writing and audio - comes through the various new forms of social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

However, when using online social media to research a topic, it is always important to remember that the information sources are usually private citizens whose information has not been put through any system of journalistic checks and balances, and who are not required to provide high-quality information, as journalists are.

In the water and sanitation sector, however, there are numerous trusted online platforms, the contents of which are contributed by renowned experts and scientists.

Two main principles should guide any research on online social media. These are “From Outside In” and “Deep, Not Wide.”

“From Outside In” is starting on the outside of any subject, meaning you must first check the information with neutral and trusted sources outside of social networks. Only then is it appropriate to start researching on social media - for example, interviewing those involved or even those responsible.

“Deep, Not Wide” refers to the fact that it’s possible to get sidetracked when researching topics on social media - there is so much information available that it is important to remain focused.

Questions to ask yourself

Factsheet Block Body

Ask these questions when deciding whether you can trust information you found using online social media:

  • Is this information too good to be true?
  • Could the sources be fake?
  • Does the source publish regularly and often?
  • Has this picture or video clearly been tampered with or obviously edited?


Ask these questions with regard to context when deciding whether you can trust information you found on social media:

  • How long has this account existed?
  • What connections (Facebook friends, Twitter followers, etc.) does this account have?
  • Who were the first connections? Who were the first followers?
  • Who has talked about this account? Are they trustworthy?
  • Can I contact the owner of this account personally?
  • Are there other online pages that will provide further information about this account?


Ask these questions about technical details when deciding whether you can trust information you found on social media:

  • What does the website’s address look like? Is the address ending trustworthy (for example, a .com or .org, rather than something unknown)?
  • Can I use the Who Is tool to find out who registered this website?
  • Can I use the Wayback Machine to find older versions of this website?


Factsheet Block Body
  • What exactly is it that I want to research?
  • Who is communicating with whom? And why?
  • Is this source trustworthy?
  • Are there other sources I can investigate?
  • Can I contact this source directly?
  • How can I verify this source?
  • Can I rule out technological manipulations (such as editing, Photoshopping)?
Library References

Shortcuts to Journalism: The Basics of Print, Online and Broadcast Reporting

When basic questions about journalism come up, this handbook, written and produced by Media in Cooperation and Transition (MICT), provides clear, brief and precise answers. Shortcuts to Journalism isn’t just for journalists – it’s also helpful for non-journalists. Download the English version here or the Arabic version here.

Schmidt, E., Tirok, M. and Bösch, M. (2016): Shortcuts to Journalism: The Basics of Print, Online and Broadcast Reporting. Berlin, Germany: Media in Cooperation and Transition gGmbH PDF
Further Readings

Alternative Versions to