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Published on October 7th, 2013 | by EJC


Featured Tool: Facebook Graph Search

1) In a nutshell

  • Tool: Graph Search is a new initiative by Facebook that allows users to extract information from their social circles, as well as publically shared posts, through natural language enquiries. As of July 2013, it has begun a slow roll out across the globe, however North America is currently the only region where it is fully available.
  • Information: Unlike Facebook’s previous search feature, which only allowed users to search for specific pages, Graph Search allows users to sift through posts and pages according to location, time, interests and countless other criteria. As a result, there is potential for Graph Search to gather information about crises by searching for statuses, photos and check-ins at a particular location and time.
  • Data: Data is mined from a user’s friends network and publically available posts according to the search requisites.
  • Technology: Graph Search utilises a semantic search algorithm that filters results based on the meaning of phrases rather than individual keywords.
  • Accessibility: The ability of journalists to retrieve information from Graph Search is highly dependent on the privacy settings of users and the breadth of their social network. Journalists must also question the reliability of search results, as they can be distorted by fake personal information and pages that have been liked purely for promotional, information gathering or social purposes.


2) Case study

Facebook has been shown to be a useful tool for the verification of information, see how Storyful used Facebook to verify video from an Egyptian protest, identifying individuals involved in incidents through crowdsourcing, see how Facebook was used to identify Vancouver rioters, and reporting criminal activities, see how Facebook was used to arrest a man for murdering his wife.

Importantly, the use of Facebook in each of these cases was contingent on a user being connected to an individual in their social circle and either serendipitously stumbling across posts or actively searching for them.

Graph Search eliminates the need to know whose page contains the information you are after. Journalists can search for all posts related to a particular topic and are therefore able to connect with a wider array of sources. As a result, Graph Search provides a more efficient means for reporters to access and verify information already available to them on Facebook.

3) Media use

Graph Search provides opportunities for journalists to find information, verify it and also connect with new sources.  In particular, it provides a streamlined method to locate individuals for the verification of information. Journalists do not need to know the name of the person they are searching for anymore, instead they can search based on other known criteria such as location, occupation, and age. However, the scope of information that a journalist is able to access is highly variable upon their social network and the privacy settings of other users. For example, if a journalist has a lot of contacts in a particular city they are able to access more posts from this area under the ‘friends’ and ‘friends of friends’ privacy settings.  Conversely, if different journalist with fewer contacts conducts the same search they may only have access to public posts and profiles.

Furthermore, information retrieved may not necessarily be reliable or accurate, as individuals often like pages ironically or to receive updates. Facebook also does not require people to prove their identity or personal information. Journalists must be wary of this and follow verification processes when utilising Facebook as a source.


Even after relevant information has been found, reporters must be aware of privacy issues and ownership laws. Storyful provides a best practice example of how to mediate these concerns, ensuring that they track down the original author and receive permission before publication.

4) What’s in it for journalists?

  • Graph Search provides a simple way for journalists to access relevant information on a particular topic and report on in a timely manner
  • As information retrieved is connected to a Facebook profile the verification process is expedited
  • Journalists are able to find new sources through occupation, interest and location filters

Photo: cfrincon

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