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REVEAL | September 30, 2023

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How to find breaking news on Twitter

How to find breaking news on Twitter
Ruben Bouwmeester

Nowadays, news breaks fastest on Twitter. But how do you find breaking news in Twitter? Julia Bayer and Ruben Bouwmeester have put together some search terms for you.



The nature of breaking news is that it happens unexpectedly. Simply waiting for something to pop up on Twitter trending is not an option. You’ll have to actively seek it out.

The most important rule: Switch perspectives with the eyewitness and ask yourself, “What would I tweet if I were an eyewitness to an accident or disaster?”

To find breaking news on Twitter you have to think like a person who’s experiencing something out of the ordinary. Eyewitnesses tend to share what they see unfiltered and directly on social media, usually by expressing their first impressions and feelings. As a result, eyewitness media can include very raw language that reflects the shock felt as a result of the situation. These posts often include misspellings.

In this article, we’ll outline search terms you can use in order to find breaking news.

We’ll first focus on searching in Twitter in both English and Arabic.

Search terms in general

These are some terms you should always have on your radar:

General keywords: I, me, my, shock, live, see, seeing, saw, can’t believe, watch, witness(ed), just, now, shock, damn, dude, crazy, scared, fuck, shit, omg, wow, breaking.

The thing is, if you were to create a Tweetdeck stream with all these words, the amount of noise [non-relevant content that has nothing to do with breaking news] would be enormous. Instead, you can filter out the noise via Tweetdeck or exclusion of terms – or you can just get your query right.

We have therefore structured the search terms in categories.

Human disasters

For human disasters like terrorist attacks, shootings, explosions, war conflicts, train collisions, etc. you can use the following search terms.

Human disaster keywords: explosion, terror, attack, horror, OMG, OMGGGG, WTF, fuck, holy, shit, crash, shot, shots, shooting, terrible, shocking, WOW, people, run, running, someone, police, bus, car, plane, train, killed.

Twitter operator example: “WTF OR shit OR OMG AND explosion OR shooting”.

Here are some examples from the terrorist attack in Paris on 13.11.15. Note that as soon as you find breaking news, make sure to translate your keywords into the language of the country where the event is taking place.

Natural disasters

For natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, floods, etc. you can use the following search terms.

Natural disaster keywords: house, world, street, evacuation, hit, shaking, aftershock, safe, disaster, evacuate(d), earthquake, tsunami, flooding, volcano, eruption, massive, killed, people running, damage(d), destroyed.

Twitter operator example: “earthquake OR disaster OR evacuation AND massive OR safe OR people running”.

Here are some examples from the earthquake in Nepal on 25.04.2015. Note that after a hashtag has taken hold, you can follow updates on the event using it (e.g. #NepalEarthquake) or using Twitter’s location function (near:Kathmandu).

Political news

For political events like elections, retirement, change of power, coup, protests, demonstrations, crisis, etc. you can use the following search terms.

Political news keywords: enough, occupy, coup, demonstration, protests, protesters, corruption, active, embassy, government, our.

Twitter operator example: “coup OR demonstration OR protests AND our OR active OR corruption”.

Here is an example from the protests at Taksim square on 28.05.2013.

Death of a VIP

For events like the unexpected death of VIP’s, singers, actors, politicians etc. you can use the following search terms.

Death of VIP keywords: dead, RIP, unbelievable, died, death, VIP.

Twitter operator example: ‘RIP AND unbelievable OR died OR death’.

Here is an example from the death of Whitney Houston on 11.02.2012.

Positive news

Breaking news doesn’t always have to be bad news. Remember #IStandWithAhmed, the student who got arrested for bringing his homemade clock to school? It’s hard to find unexpected stories like that. To do so, we recommend using curated Twitter lists so that you won’t miss tweets like this one.

عاجل (Aajeel)

We talked to our colleagues at the Social Media Desk in the Arabic Department at Deutsche Welle to find out which search terms they use to discover breaking news in the Arabic World. This is what they told us:

There are two main search terms: عاجل (Aajeel), which means “breaking” or “breaking news,” and then there’s الآن (Al An), which means “now” or “at this moment.”

Combine these words with the name of a country, and you’ll discover the breaking news there:

Breaking keywords: الآن العراق  with عاجل# = (“Breaking now in Iraq”)

Another way is to combine the two main search terms Aajeel and Al An with the words picture or video.

Media keywords: عاجل فيديو  = Aajeel + video, الآن فيديو  = Al An + video; عاجل صور = Aajeel + Fotos, الآن صور  = Al An + Fotos

Still, one of the challenges is that the meaning of words in the Arabic language can differ a lot depending on the region you’re searching in. Also, Twitter is not the main social network people in the Arabic World use to share news. But if they do use Twitter, most of them use Aajeel and Al An in their tweets when they see something happening.

After the news broke

So now, the news has broken, and you’re still looking for UGC – just remember you’re not the only one. One way to find relevant content is to use search terms like “use your pic” or “use your video”. To stay updated on unfolding events, create or subscribe to twitter lists with trusted sources who are covering the event and filter them with the search term: (un)confirmed. Once a hashtag has been established, monitor it – you wouldn’t want to miss out on content containing: #ParisShooting, #ParisAttacks, #JeSuisCharlie, #JeSuisTunisie.

To be continued…

We’d like to thank all of those who have contributed toward finding these search terms. Please let us know if we’ve forgotten anything or if you have other news category suggestions that we missed out on. As this is an ongoing research project, we’ll highlight Facebook and Instagram searches as well as other languages in upcoming articles.

About the authors: Julia Bayer and Ruben Bouwmeester are freelancers at Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international news broadcaster. Julia Bayer is social media journalist, trainer and manager and works for the DW Social Media News Desk doing research and UGC verification. Ruben Bouwmeester is an innovation manager, product developer and trainer. He specializes in UGC and verification of eyewitness media and is currently working on the research projects Reveal and InVID. Julia and Ruben’s fascination for verifying social media content first brought the two together, and they’ve been researching, developing and teaching together ever since.

Context: With the REVEAL project, one of our aims is to translate the above knowledge into algorithms in order to develop software that supports you in your quest for breaking news – and most of all, with verifying it. You can follow REVEAL’s progress on Twitter.