8 Facebook Graph Search Ideas for Journalists


Get ready to search and be searched.

It’s still a bit too early to say if Facebook Graph Search will prove to be a great new tool, or if it will prove to be an ongoing privacy headache for those who are aware that Facebook is capable of making changes to privacy settings without notifying users.  The fact is, most articles that I’ve read so far have had examples for how Facebook Graph Search could be used to expand business prospects or how it could be used to find a date.  My question is – how could journalists use the new tool?


Facebook Graph Search

First of all, if you’re not quite familiar with Facebook Graph Search, read about it here.  As things are set currently, personal information that appears in search results depends on your privacy settings.  People can only search for information about you that you have enabled them to see–such as photos and albums set to ‘public’ or ‘friends’, and not ones set to ‘only me’.  To add further privacy to your profile, it will take more effort.  An example is the extra step you can take to hide pages you like from your timeline.  I have also read that by removing all information in your personal Facebook page’s ‘About’ section (employer, schools, etc), by not ‘liking’ any pages and turning off the geo-locater option in your privacy settings, the likelihood you’ll be included in search results is greatly diminished.

But, say you don’t want to be included in search results at all.  That’s too bad.  “Facebook removed the feature that allows users to opt out of public search. Want out? You’ll have to get rid of your account altogether,” states the Columbia Journalism Review.

In December of 2012, just prior to the Graph Search release, Facebook made changes to its privacy policy that will make it easier to implement the new tool.  The latest privacy section, which went into effect on Dec. 11, 2012, reads: “When you hide things on your timeline, like posts or connections, it means those things will not appear on your timeline. But, remember, anyone in the audience of those posts or who can see a connection may still see it elsewhere, like on someone else’s timeline or in search results. You can also delete or change the audience of content you post.”

Yep, it’s still awfully confusing.  For a much more detailed write up on these policy changes, check out this blog here.

Needless to say, this type of tool has the potential to be quite powerful.

In fact, you may want to check out something posted by the ‘Facebook+Journalists’ group on January 15, 2013: “How Journalists Can Use Facebook Graph Search for Reporting”.  Over 216,000 people ‘like’ the Facebook+Journalists page and this particular post currently has 209 likes, 176 shares, and a long list of comments to read through.  Also, the Columbia Journalism Review has ‘Facebook as a reporting tool’ on their radar.  As they point out in the article linked above, “the new graph search gives journalists a way to construct a trend story without picking up the phone.”

To use this tool, of course you must have a Facebook account.  You can search from your personal account, an account you run for your organization, or your professionally-branded journalist’s Facebook page.

I’ve blended some ideas from the sources listed above, with ideas of others, with ideas of my own to give you the list below for getting ready to search and be searched:


Ideas for Journalists

1.      Naturally, the primary use for this tool by journalists is the ability to find sources.  As the Facebook+Journalists group put it, this new tool effectively creates “a ‘Rolodex’ of 1 billion potential sources”.  Perhaps even better than LinkedIn you can search for people who work for a specific company, organization or government office and live in a specific city.  Following an issue related to transportation?  Find them if they list their city and their company name in their ‘About’ section.

2.      Also similar to LinkedIn, say you’re an investigative reporter looking into how many government employees once worked for a controversial company.  Facebook Graph Search may help you find that information in less than a second.

3.      Interview someone new by searching for him or her using the Facebook Graph Search.  If you’re GPS-friendly, you can search for people who live nearby.  Message them and set up an interview that same day if possible.

4.      Or, maybe you’re a journalist that follows and writes about emerging global trends.  Graph Search enables you to to search for people’s connections to interests on Facebook.  For example, you could potentially put together some really interesting trend analysis by looking into “newspapers liked by journalists in India” or “books read by CEOs in Russia”.  Search results will display a list of commonly liked newspapers or books like by people who include journalist- or CEO-related titles in their job descriptions in the ‘About’ section.

5.      Search for photos taken in a specific place and/or at specific time.  Facebook will identify photos based on user’s location tags.  Document these things as a snapshot of a past event or use the tool to put together situational awareness presentations to show what an affected area may look like.  Alternatively, you may just come across some great HD images that you’d like to request permission to use in an upcoming story that you’re working on.

6.      Make a montage of topic-specific photos you’ve ‘liked’ throughout the entire year to put together an end of the year ‘wrap-up’ story to show how things evolved during a given period of time.  For example, if you followed a lot of different pages and tended to ‘like’ photos related to documenting how locals were using mobile technology or how locals were creating entrepreneurial businesses, you’ll have access to a list of all of them (by typing in ‘photos I like’) to extract images.

7.      Journalists can optimize their personal or professionally-branded Facebook pages to contribute to their organization’s Facebook page search inquiries.  Optimize means your professional page should be public, list your current employer, include relevant sub-categories in the “About” section and also include a number of relevant ‘liked’ pages.  By taking such steps, pages will appear higher and more frequently in search results—contributing to transparency and a new way to engage readers on a more personal level.

8.      After optimizing your own page(s), you’ll likely want to find other potential journalists to follow on Facebook. To do this, simply type in “journalists” to find people or pages that fall into this category. By selecting people, individuals who have a journalist-related public title on their Facebook profile and have the ‘follow’ capability enabled will allow you to keep up with their public updates in their news feed.


A Reminder About Ethics and Copyright Laws

Just remember to resist the ‘pure exploitation’ route.  Journalists are going to find a lot of personal information – especially if the person posting the information is not very conscientious of privacy settings.  There will be profiles found of people doing or liking contradictory things.  Ethics should, naturally, always be observed.  Journalists should be reminded that all information found online should be subject to extensive fact checking to ensure that they’re not falling prey to misinformation or disinformation.

In relation to using photographs found through Graph Search, standard best practices for following copyright laws should also be observed.  Ask for permission when possible and credit those where credit is due.


The Bizarre

Lastly, if you’re looking for entertainment and some examples of crazy stuff that some people have searched for, check out the ‘Actual Facebook Graph Searches’ Tumblr.


What are your thoughts on all this?  Post in the comments section below or tweet me @BBGinnovate.


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(Thank you to Jessica Stahl for her contributions to this post.)

(The foregoing commentary does not constitute endorsement by the US Government, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, VOA, MBN, OCB, RFA, or RFE/RL of the information products or services discussed.)

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April Deibert

April Deibert

April Deibert is the Multimedia Blogger/Producer for the Office of Digital & Design Innovation. Follow her on Twitter: @BBGinnovate and @AprilDeibert.

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