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Teaching Credibility with Twitter

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Brief Assignment Overview: 

Introducing the concept of credibility by analyzing tweets.

Type of Assignment: 
Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Rhetoric: 
Pedagogical Goals - Literature: 
Pedagogical Goals - Writing: 
Pedagogical Goals - Digital Literacy: 
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Full Assignment Description: 

This in-class exercise/discussion gets students to think about author credibility. It familiarizes them with concepts and terminology they will need 1) when researching and writing papers and 2) for rhetorical analysis.This lesson plan is based on a paper studying the credibility of Twitter users ("Tweeting is believing?", available online: In this study, participants rate the credibility of tweets such as the following:

First step: To start things off, students rate the credibility of these tweets (or bring your own). They then come up with criteria that influenced their ratings.

In the study, among the most important indicators of credibility are:
1) "verified author topic expertise", "author often tweets on topic",
2) "personal photo as user image", "credible user name"
3) "non-standard grammar/punctuation".
4) "is a RT [retweet] from someone you trust"

The students will come up with similar criteria. To illustrate, teachers can then show made-up tweets such as:

There is life on Mars.
There is life on Mars.
RT @NASA: There is life on Mars.
There is life on Mars ;).
Their's life on Mars.

For each example, students discuss which feature affects the tweet's credibility in what way.
Second step: The point, obviously, is then to point out how these criteria apply to TV news, newspaper editorials, books, research articles, and other publications that students work with every day. Since a lot of students work with newspaper editorials in RHE 306, I try to make it explicit for that genre: What is the equivalent to a credible user name? How do we assess "verified author topic expertise" in this context? Can we find out whether the author often "tweets" about this topic? What is the newspaper equivalent to a retweet? A short discussion of differences (edited content v. social media) could/should/might follow.
As a third step, students should try to apply these ideas to their own writing. Some, such as "non-standard grammar", will be obvious. But what are other ways of improving credibility? They might discuss how to signal author expertise (e.g. by citing external research), how to present a "personal photo" in writing (e.g. discussing personal experience and background) and how the use of non-standard grammar/punctuation will affect their credibility.

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

Read the paper. Bring some tweets to class, made-up or real. Any part of the paper may be used in class: "Permission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copiesbear this notice and the full citation on the first page."

Instructions For Students: 

See above.

Evaluation Suggestions: 

No evaluation.

Course Description: 

RHE 306. Rhetoric and Writing
An introductory writing course that includes instruction in practical reasoning and the principles of rhetoric.

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