Important heads-up: Did you know that Twitter has changed how its timestamps are determined?

Three clocks showing different times.
Three clocks showing different times.
Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

Understanding how timestamps applied to online content are determined is very important to journalists and factcheckers. Misinterpreting the time a tweet, video or article was posted can lead to embarrassing mistakes.

Most of us are familiar with timestamps — usually small, unobtrusive pieces of text accompanying posts — but it’s crucial to know the criteria used to determine what’s displayed.

So for anyone working in news media — or, for that matter, anyone interested in accuracy — Twitter changing the way its timestamps are determined is a vital piece of information.

*I don’t know exactly when this change took place. A cursory search didn’t bring up any mention of it, and I decided it was more important to get the information out than to spend too much time searching.

Credit for the heads-up on this has to go — as so often — to my friends and colleagues in our Indonesian training network. Early on August 9, I got a message from Febrina Galuh Permanasari, of the Alliance of Independent Journalists, asking whether I’d noticed that it was no longer possible to change the time zone in your Twitter settings (Febri had in turn been alerted by RTV journalist Afwan Purwanto).

Twitter’s interface has undergone quite a few changes recently, and it appears some are more than just cosmetic. The Settings section previously looked like this:

Twitter’s old Settings section, with the option to choose your time zone.
Twitter’s old Settings section, with the option to choose your time zone.

Now, the ‘Time zone’ option is gone. In its place is the option to select your country:

The new Settings section, which instead has an option to choose your country.
The new Settings section, which instead has an option to choose your country.

This may seem like a minor annoyance — except that the time zone setting was what determined the timestamp users see. I decided to check whether that function was now transferred to the country setting. It wasn’t, so that meant I had to find out what was now responsible.

Fortunately, the next check got me the information I needed. With my computer’s clock set to Central European Summer Time, I checked the timestamp on a tweet:

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Then I changed the clock to Eastern Daylight Time and checked the tweet again:

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Sure enough, there was a six-hour difference.

So don’t get caught out. And let your friends and colleagues know. If you don’t want to bother them with this entire article, the tl;dr is:

Spread the word.

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