Navigating X, formerly Twitter: A guide for journalists

Navigating X, formerly Twitter: A guide for journalists

The rebranded app’s temporary view limits, new Direct Message setting and ending of access to its free API present a challenge for journalists trying to discover content, track down sources and identify any unusual patterns or trends. This guide offers a few tips and workarounds.

By Miguel D’Souza, Esther Chan

On top of all the changes that Twitter has undergone since it was acquired by Elon Musk late last year, its brand name is no longer.

On July 23rd, the Tesla CEO and Twitter’s new owner announced a rebrand of the app, which is now known simply as X. Users are now publishing “x’s” instead of tweets on, rather than

Musk made it clear the rebrand would be more than a name change: he envisioned X to transform from a microblogging site to an “everything app” with the “ability to conduct your entire financial world.”

Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino elaborated further that the app will be “centered in audio, video, messaging, payments/banking – creating a global marketplace for ideas, goods, services, and opportunities” — not unlike super-apps like China’s WeChat.

For now, no new features or policy changes have been announced for X. Since the changes discussed below were made before the rebranding, this guide will continue to refer to the social media platform as Twitter for simplicity.

Changes pose a challenge for journalistic work

Twitter users are now subjected to a temporary daily view limitation and barriers in sending direct messages to other users.

Journalists may find it more difficult to track down an account, contact a potential source on Twitter, access user-generated content (UGC) in real-time and analyse patterns and trends in which problematic content or false claims spread.

This guide will present a few tips and workarounds for journalists who wish to continue using Twitter as a source of information.

Distinguish between legacy and paid verified accounts

The verified blue check mark was used to signify accounts that were credible and trustworthy. It is not so much the case anymore after users are given the option to pay for a verified blue check.

The barrier of entry is low: any accounts created more than 30 days ago and are able to provide a mobile number can get the verified badge at the price of AUD13 (or AUD19 for mobile devices) per month.

(Twitter did roll out a gold check mark for the verified accounts of governments, nonprofits and businesses.)

A way around this is the chrome extension Eight Dollars, which is an effective tool to help distinguish between the two types of verified accounts.

It is available for free and once installed on your Chrome browser, it would indicate on the blue check mark whether an account is “paid” or “verified” (legacy), as seen in the demonstration below:

Third-party tools relying on free API cease to function

Another crucial change has been the loss of free Twitter API access for third-party researchers on a budget.

In order to access a large enough dataset for meaningful research and avoid the read-limit cap, users need to fork out at least USD5,000 (AUD7,300) per month for the “pro” level API access.

The hefty price tag has shut out many third-party developers and killed off some key open-source tools, including those that used to help detect the spread of falsehoods and amplification.

RIP - Below is a list of third-party tools that no longer work after Twitter removed the free access to its API:

There are still ways to extract data about Twitter accounts and analyse associations between networks and more. It is just a little (a lot) more manual than before. Read on to find out more.

Rely on lists to keep track of credible sources

Temporary read limits have been imposed on users to “address extreme levels of data scraping & system manipulation”, according to Twitter owner Elon Musk.

It is more important than ever therefore for journalists to keep track of credible sources, and one way this can be done is in a Twitter list.

This is because well-curated lists would help you access trusted sources even if their tweets are not popping up on your feed organically.

Create the following lists and update them regularly:

  • Verified accounts that you follow or whose content you want to report on;
  • Accounts you trust (verified or not) or which are useful for expert commentary;
  • Credible accounts that report on the ground or which regularly upload UGC. Divide these lists according to geographical locations and/or topics.

Make sure you keep your lists private if you are listing accounts that have a history of trolling, grifting or posting untruths, lies, provocative, confrontational and/or harmful content. This way the accounts would not be notified that you have included them in a list.

Find public lists 

You can also take advantage of the public lists created by other users by searching on Google using these search operators.

Take the following syntax as an example: inurl:lists Australia

There are three components in the search string.

The first one ( narrows down the searches to only results from the site ( will return the same results since the rebrand); the second (inurl:lists) specifies that in the URL of the search results the keyword “lists” is required; then the third part is a keyword you are searching for, in this case, Australia.

The syntax therefore works to dig up Twitter lists that are about or contain accounts that are relevant to the subject Australia.

Alternatively, do a keyword search on Twitter’s “Lists” to unearth relevant public lists.

Verification and reporting

Ways other than Direct Message to contact Twitter users

Since Direct Message is now a function only available to verified users (to “help reduce the number of spam messages in DMs”, according to Twitter Support), or unless the person you are trying to reach has opted in to receive Direct Messages from anyone, you may not always be able to contact a person directly on Twitter.

Here are some tips for your to track down and contact a Twitter user:

Search for a user’s username on other other platforms - try

Or search using search operators on Google such as: “first name last name”

If the Twitter handle fails to return any useful results, try conducting reverse images searches using the profile picture via the plugin RevEye.

Discover UGC

Relying on a limited feed to unearth UGC from the scene may not suffice when news breaks, but you can rely on a few syntaxes to help surface relevant content posted to Twitter.

Monitor trending terms or hashtags, or just search for key terms using search strings to filter for images, video, or content from verified accounts.

For example, while monitoring content related to Australia’s upcoming Voice to Parliament referendum, you could refer to the hashtag #VoiceToParliament.

Add filter:media to return only tweets with images or video:

#VoiceToParliament filter:media

Add (filter:blue_verified -filter:verified) OR filter:verified to return content from BOTH legacy and paid verified accounts:

#VoiceToParliament (filter:blue_verified -filter:verified) OR filter:verified

Then as illustrated above, the extension Eight Dollars would help differentiate between the two different types of verified accounts.

Collecting tweets over time in light of daily read limits

Since early July, Twitter has restricted the number of tweets users can view, set at 10,000 tweets per day for verified accounts, 1,000 for unverified and 500 for new unverified accounts.

Owner Elon Musk explained the temporary measure was rolled out to “address extreme levels of data scraping & system manipulation”. But journalists and researchers immediately hit a hurdle because the viewing as well as scrapping of tweets, and therefore the significance of their subsequent analysis, would be impacted by the limits.

While the view limitation cannot be bypassed, relying on data scraping tools to collect a substantial number of tweets over a specific time frame would still help present a fuller picture of any issue at hand.

It could help understand the sentiment around a particular issue, allow the analysis of any dubious pattern in which a narrative was promoted, detect possible amplification and/or signs of inauthentic behaviours between accounts.

Data scraping tools like Instant Data Scraper, once installed in your browser, can run on its own with minimal handling, and can scrape hundreds of tweets per day.

While this is under the 1,000-tweet reading cap for unverified users, the best thing about the tool is it can be left running in the background and continue collecting data at 12- and/or 24-hour intervals, for instance.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Run a search on by using a keyword(s), hashtag(s), search strings, or a combination. For instance, to track accounts that have tweeted against the Voice to Parliament referendum in, we used the hashtag #VoteNoAustralia.

  2. Set the filter “latest” to reflect tweets in reverse chronological order.

    Or use this syntax to isolate tweets in a specified time frame:
    since:yyyy-mm-dd until:yyyy-mm-dd

  3. Run the Instant Data Scraper extension. Set your scrape to “infinite” scroll, set “min delay” to 5 and “max delay” to 50 seconds. This allows for Twitter’s “lazy” page load.


ProTip - When the search fails to load and the blue “retry” button comes up, press it. It will restart the page load, and you can re-activate your scrape.

If nothing happens, leave the tab with your Twitter search open and leave it for a while. It may take up to a few minutes, sometimes longer for it to re-activate depending on the volume of tweets. Then hit “‘retry” and Twitter should start loading the search again.

X as a tool for journalism

The positioning of Twitter, now X, as a social networking app may well change following its rebrand, which may bring about further changes in certain functionalities and policies.

With increasing competition from apps like Meta’s Threads, Mastodon and Bluesky, it is worth keeping an eye out for how Twitter’s ongoing transformation may impact online journalism.

25 July 2023


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