• “Forensic” Twitter – getting evidence for use in court etc

For anyone who wants to (try and) capture Twitter-related evidence,
where possible.
[29 Aug 2018]

I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice (I am not qualified to give it). Be very careful about relying on this information – if I am wrong my advice might damage your case! – and always seek appropriate legal advice if you need it. Different localities will have their own laws and application of those laws. [Page updated 29 Aug 2018 12 Aug 2018]

See further reading at end.

This post is written for people who need to keep an eye on a particular set of tweets, or information on a website. An example might be where someone says something (on Twitter) that crosses a line and may need to result in intervention from Police, statutory bodies or some other legal body, or perhaps it may even end up in court. I have no idea what type of evidence would be required to satisfy a court but here are some suggestions for capturing tweets as evidence, and their limitations.

If you’ve been blocked you can still view and save tweets by logging out, using a third party app (like Echofon for iPhone or Dabr.eu for desktop) or creating a spare account.

Table of Contents
1. Capturing the tweets while they’re still available
• 1a. Screen capture / screenshot
• 1b. Freezepage
• 1c. Storify or embedding in a blog
• 1d. Capturing the tweets as they’re sent – email notifications or IFTTT
2. Capturing deleted tweets
3. What did they use to send the tweet?
4. Detect changes on another website, or new information being published
5. How many followers did X have at point Y?
6. Fake tweets – screenshots, deletions
7. Further reading

1. Capturing the tweets while they’re still available
1a. Screen capture / screenshot

Have the tweet visible on the screen and take a screenshot. Methods for doing this depend on the device but see [Taking a screenshot] for some suggestions.

For a better picture use desktop Twitter (and include the https:// link that’s visible in the address bar). Most Twitter platforms, including desktop, will also show you who has favourited or RTed the tweet (which may be useful evidence in itself of the spread of the tweet) but you may need to note the accounts that have done this as it’s not necessarily obvious from the pictures (and they may subsequently change their picture). If you hover the mouse over their picture a pop-up of their profile will appear. You can also capture some of the replies to the tweet too.

Note that more people might reply to the tweet later (or favourite it, or RT it) so this process may need to be repeated periodically.

Advantages: captures the tweet as it is, even if later deleted
Limitations: because an image can be altered it may not be deemed strong enough evidence. However I think it would be a ‘not unreasonable supposition’ to believe that someone stating under oath that it is true might satisfy the courts, though see tweet below. You might be lucky and find that others have created a corroborating screenshot or other way of verifying the tweet too. See also Section 6 on faked screenshots.

1b. Freezepage
To capture a copy of the ‘page’ on which the tweet appears (you need to use the tweet’s own address – you can find its URL in the tweet’s timestamp. Make sure you remove the S from the httpS bit of the address [update 22 March – removing the S from https:// to make it http:// may no longer be necessary, but if it gives an error message try that first]. You can create an account, or not http://www.freezepage.com/

1c. Storify or embedding in a blog
Storify no longer available, alternatives here “Alternatives to Storify”

A tweet, once embedded in a Storify story or blog, will remain visible there even once deleted. It will look slightly different (you won’t be able to favourite it or RT it) but it will remain there otherwise exactly as it was.

Storify embeds: Search for the name of the person, or words in the tweet, or if you have its address use the link search to pin it down and save it in your Storify. See [How to use Storify like a pro to collect tweets] for more info.

Blog embeds: Either use the embed tweet option (previously found in the three … dots but this has been replaced with a down arrow to the right of the tweet) or, for WordPress dot com blogs (as this one) you can just use the tweet’s address and it will autoembed.

1d. Capturing the tweets as they’re sent
Email notifications – Generally this is ON by default and you might have already switched it off (it can be a bit annoying). Twitter can send you an email notification when someone sends you a tweet (or when someone likes or retweets your tweet).

Check your email notification settings here
https://twitter.com/settings/email_notifications

This is an imperfect solution. Note that Twitter won’t email you every notification and it will largely ignore new accounts or those that haven’t confirmed an email address (and  it may be these types of accounts that you need to collect tweets from). Twitter has also changed its notifications – it used to be the case that you’d get a full copy of the text of the tweet and that may no longer be the case. [More on Twitter’s email preferences]

In fact it is likely that Twitter will hide some tweets sent in your mentions (notifications tab) from new or unconfirmed accounts, or even tweets that show up in response to those. It may be worth searching for the tweets (using to:yourusername to search). You can search while logged out but you may get a more complete picture logging in with a spare account.

IFTTT – The free online tool IFTTT (If This, Then That) lets you capture a copy of a ‘corpus’ (“bunch”) of tweets eg all from a particular user or all containing a hashtag. You can have them emailed to you or you can have them collected in a Google Drive spreadsheet or Evernote file. You can even have the tweets rebroadcast to a spare account (though I recommend making it a private one otherwise it’s a bit annoying and spammy).

I’ve not written a blog post specifically about setting up IFTTT but the information can be gleaned from the second part of [Downloading your old Twitter faves, setting up IFTTT to capture new ones] and another post that might be useful on how to use IFTTT is [How to display Instagram pictures correctly in tweets using IFTTT].

With IFTTT you authorise it to access your own Twitter account (to let it interact with Twitter) then authorise another service (whatever you want to use to collect the tweets) eg Google Drive or something else. IFTTT calls the different services channels and the instructions to “if a tweet contains X send an email to Y” a recipe.

2. Capturing deleted tweets
While deleting a tweet removes it from Twitter’s public servers it is still potentially findable by users (in some cases you may need to get a court order to recover it from Twitter’s backup servers, assuming that is possible).

If you are looking for a tweet only a short while after its deletion (I’m not sure exactly how long but it’s a matter of hours and no guarantees) you may find it via Google’s cache (see tiny green arrow in picture below, flanked by orange arrows, that is the link to find a cached copy, if available – manage your expectations though, it’s not all that common to find them in this way but does happen). Note that tweets that have previously been embedded in a blog post or used in a Storify story will still remain even after the tweet is deleted. Other search engines have caches too and you can see an example here http://cachedview.com/

screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-21-24-12

Other things to try if you can’t find the tweet(s) are to see if others have retweeted the text of the tweet(s) [search for words you remember in the tweet] or a screenshot [in which case they may have included the original @handle of the person who deleted the tweet so try searching for to:handle].

If you’re the sort of person who knows what an API is then you might be able to do something on that front but alas this exceeds my knowledge.

3. What did they use to send the tweet?
All tweets used to have additional information below the tweet saying what software had been used to send the tweet but Twitter no longer adds this in. However many third party apps do. Echofon for iPhone and Dabr.eu will tell you how a tweet was sent.

  • Sent via Twitter Web Client generally means the person was using a web browser to send the tweet
  • Sent via Twitter for iPhone (or for Android), etc – fairly explanatory (official Twitter apps)
  • Sent via Echofon for [smartphone] – these are 3rd party apps
  • Sent via Mobile Twitter – they may have used the mobile version of desktop Twitter on their smartphone

Here’s a screenshot of this information for a tweet sent via Dabr.eu, as seen on Dabr.eu.

Screenshot 2018-08-12 17.49.37

Because Echofon is used on a mobile device it’s reasonable to assume that if that was used to send the tweet the person was using a phone. If it says something like ‘Twitter for web’ then they may have tweeted from a desktop computer.

Limitations: On an iPhone it was possible to download the Chrome browser and use Twitter’s desktop version (ie force it to show desktop rather than the more usual mobile-friendly version). Tweets sent in this way would appear as ‘from desktop’ yet would have been sent by mobile phone. It’s a while since I’ve played with this so don’t know if it’s still the case.

4. Detect changes on another website, or new information being published
Use the change detection service and get it to send you an email if the text on a website is amended https://www.changedetection.com/, or you can set up a Google Alert to email you if a particular word or phrase appears in a newly published page on the internet https://www.google.com/alerts

5. How many followers did X have at point Y?
One of the considerations in the recent Monroe v Hopkins Twitter libel case considered how many followers the parties had at the time the relevant tweets were made. This was estimated but in some cases you’d be able to find the exact number thanks to the Internet Archive‘s ‘Wayback Machine‘ which periodically saves copies of web pages and stores them for future searching.

Whether or not someone’s Twitter account has been archived will probably be fairly random (and presumably new accounts won’t be included – though you can of course manually add their page to the archive, or use Freezepage as mentioned above) – I was quite pleased to find that my page has been archived. The Internet Archive takes snapshots at particular time points, often several months apart – it’s pot luck what’s there.

The Internet Archive has taken several snapshots of my Twitter account and one, made at 14:52 on 14 Feb 2010 showed that I had 820 followers, by 3 August 2014 this had increased to 3,631. My account has had 44 snapshots taken between 23 Dec 2008 and 9 Jan 2017. Use the format https://twitter.com/USERNAME and insert it here to test an account’s history.

6. Fake tweets – screenshots, deletions
(i) It is possible to open the Inspector panel on a browser (on Firefox on a Mac this is Command+Alt/Option+i). If you have a tweet open while doing this you can search for the text of the tweet within the Inspector panel that appears and edit it. Clicking back in the main browser window will show a fake tweet which could then be captured with a screenshot. Of course screenshots can also be faked with (ii) Photoshop-type editing or (iii) copying the text of someone else’s tweet onto a screenshot. I don’t know how prevalent this is but I’ve seen a suspected example this evening (I don’t know which of the methods suggested above they used to create it).

I asked about (i) and received confirmation from Sean Ellis who also pointed out that you could also just (iv) download a local copy of the web page, manipulate the underlying HTML code in notepad and reload a local copy and take a screenshot. There seem to be a lot of ways of cheating!

If you add extra numbers to the end of a tweet’s URL / link you are effectively creating a tweet that has never been published. When pressing enter, to open the tweet, Twitter will return a page not found – which looks as if the person has deleted the tweet. Here’s an example I created for myself using two numbers repeated to make it clear what I did.

https://twitter.com/JoBrodie/status/121212121212121212121212121212121212

It looks like this on the page. The page never existed!

Screenshot 2018-08-29 23.48.59

7. Further reading

Advertisements