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Advanced Twitter Search Commands
By
Volume 40, Number 2 - March/April 2016

WHERE IN THE WORLD IS THIS TWEET?

The near: and within: commands reveal (maybe) where someone was when they posted their tweet.

What results will this search yield?

This search term is useful to find tweets sent from a specific location. The caveat is, location services need to be turned on for this to be accurate.

How is this information useful?

This is a good search to have if you are looking for user photos taken from the scene of an incident such as a fire or natural disaster. It can also bring up reports from local law enforcement or even local media, if you don’t know all of their exact Twitter handles to find updates.

What does this search look like?

Want to know if fires are burning in the Sacramento area? This search will tell you if anyone has tweeted about it: wildfire near:smf within:15mi. How about flooding in Dover? Try this: flooding near:dover within:50mi. But notice that this search string includes results for any city named Dover. If you are only interested in tweets emanating from Dover, Delaware, search by using a Dover ZIP code: flooding near:19901 within:50mi.

WHEN WAS THAT TWEETED?

The date range search commands until: and since: provide time and date restrictions so that you know how recently the tweet appeared and, conversely, how old it is.

What results will this search yield?

This search will enable you to limit tweets to the dates they appeared.

How is this information useful?

You may need to do historical research; perhaps it’s a patent claim or a libel lawsuit. You may be asked to find trends about certain topics. By limiting to the date on which they appeared, you can identify some of the first mentions of specific topics or keywords.

What does this search look like?

The search cybersecurity until:2008-01-01 gives you all the tweets mentioning the word cybersecurity that appeared before Jan. 1, 2008. This is an interesting way to see what has changed or remained the same in that field within the past few years.

This strategy fracking since:2015-09-01 retrieves all mentions of fracking since a specific date.

You can also search between two specific dates and use a very specific search term, such as tweets about Tor relay between Oct. 1, 2014, ande Dec. 23, 2015: ™tor relay∫ since:2014-10-01 until:2015-12-23.

You can also search just by specific Twitter handles to see their tweets and mentions with a date restriction: @npr until:2010-10-10.

WITHOUT A CONCEPT

NOTing out concepts from a search strategy is a classic component of advanced searching. Twitter is no exception.

What will this search yield?

This search will specifically return results that are without mentions of the specifiers used.

How is this information useful?

It can help weed out unwanted results for popular or common search terms.

What does this search look like?

If you wanted to search for “Chelsea” but eliminate any references to the London neighborhood or Chelsea Clinton, this is how that search would look: chelsea -london Clinton.

Use ™hilton hotels∫ -paris-nicky if you only wanted results about a Hilton Hotel, but no mentions of socialites Paris or Nicky. However, keep in mind that this will also eliminate any matches to Hilton Hotels in Paris, France. So, choose your “without” filters carefully.

SEARCH BY DEVICE

To determine the device from which a tweet was sent, use the source: command.

What will this search yield?

It simply reveals from which Twitter client (web, iOS, Android, or third-party source, such as HootSuite) tweets were sent.

How is this information useful?

The police, investigators, and market researchers use this command to see activity on different or web platforms, although for different reasons.

What does this search look like?

Many people like to post photos of their food to Instagram, then tweet out the link. This sample search will show you all the times photos of French fries were shared from Instagram to Twitter: ™french fries∫ source:Instagram.

David Benson (@dbproductionLtd) suggested, in this example from his Social Chic blog, that iPhone AND source:∫Twitter for Android∫ (“How to Master Twitter Search: Searching for Tweets by Device”; thesocialchic.com/2013/10/01/how-to-master-twitter-search-searching-for-tweets-by-device) will show you all people tweeting from Android phones who mention iPhones in their tweets.

LANGUAGE

Because Twitter is global, tweets do not appear only in English. Use the lang: command to choose your language.

What will this search yield?

By specifying a language, you will see non-English tweets.

How is this information useful?

This is a great way to get information from non-English sources when doing research. While you can search for a non-English word in the English Twitter interface, you will often get some different results if you specify the language in your query.

What does this search look like?

If you wanted to see tweets in French with that specific hashtag, this is the search query you would use: #bradleycooper lang:fr. However, if you wanted to see any mention of Bradley Cooper in French, you would use ™Bradley Cooper∫ lang:fr. Note the difference in results by using the hashtag term versus the name in quotation marks. Or, you can simply use a Twitter handle and a language to see what people who speak that language are saying about a specific product: @nokia lang:fi (the Nokia company’s Twitter handle with the modifier of tweets in the Finnish language).

You can search by a Russian-language word using the English interface with or without specifying language of the tweets, as in Mockba and Mockba lang:ru. While it most likely that using Mockba will result in Russian language results, using the lang:ru modifier narrows that down even more.

Keep in mind that Twitter currently supports 34 languages, and the two-letter code designation must be used to accurately modify the search query to that language. See Twitter for Websites Support Languages (dev.twitter.com/web/overview/languages) for the entire list.

ADVANCED SEARCH CONSIDERATIONS

There are many ways to dissect Twitter searches in order to retrieve information. There are many for-pay services and platforms that will charge you for this work, but these tips will enable you to try it for yourself at no cost.

Twitter’s own Advanced Search page (twitter.com/search-advanced?lang=en) is certainly an option for executing these types of searches, but having the knowledge of the exact search string enables you to have more control over your queries and therefore your results.

A few notes of caution. The search tactics I mention don’t account for deleted tweets. Be sure to always change your result list to “live” as opposed to the default of “top” tweets returned. The default of “top” will skew your results, as they are based on paid promotions or popularity of tweet engagements. Here are a few other points to remember before you use advanced search techniques more regularly:

The location of tweets is dependent upon end users activating their location feature, or the location picked up is that of a third party such as HootSuite. The location search can be a great tool, but be thorough when you check the results if you are relying on an accurate, location-based tweet.

Twitter’s archive and algorithms seem to change to the point that a saved search that worked one month may not yield any results the next. Experiment with the search modifiers to see what you need to tweak to bring back those same or similar results.

If at first you don’t succeed, try again! You may need to finesse your search strings or queries.

Twitter is a robust social media platform whose user-generated content can yield many results for researchers, if you know the right ways of finding them.


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Tracy Z. Maleeff is a former law firm librarian and founder of Sherpa Intelligence.

 

Comments? Contact the editors at editors@onlinesearcher.net

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