Twitter and Timezones

Issues with timezones are a pretty common feature of conspiracy theories. There are the times when Google results are datestamped improperly, and often now claims that Tweets were sent before an event is supposed to have taken place.

The problem with Twitter is that it converts times to what it thinks is your local timezone. It’s imperfect. For many US users especially it confuses timezones, showing Pacific Time instead of Eastern Time. Unfortunately it doesn’t actually display a timezone indicator to make it clear which timezone it’s using.

Take a recent example below – a tweet from a journalist on site at the end of the car chase following the recent Virginia shooting. It shows 9am, which would be hours before the event actually took place.

tweet-time

But, not surprisingly, it wasn’t sent hours in advance. It’s just a timezone problem, and this is very easy to confirm.

On the individual tweet view, simply View Source of the page. Once the source is open hit CTRL-F and search for “data-time” – the first one that shows up will be the timestamp of the tweet (it will show up for each tweet on the page, so replies will be further down the page).

The 10-digit number there is the Unix timestamp of the tweet – the number of seconds passed since Jan 1, 1970 in UTC (or GMT if you prefer).

tweet-time3

You can copy and paste that in an online Unix timestamp converter an get the time, in UTC, that it was posted. Then convert that to whatever timezone you want to verify… Or you can do it in one simple step but just asking Wolfram Alpha.

Now you need never again wonder when a tweet was really sent.

UPDATE:

When I wrote this I possibly overlooked the more high profile of the supposed Twitter timestamp errors – the tweet by Chris Hurst, WDBJ anchor and Alison Parker’s boyfriend – which some claim was sent 15 minutes before the shooting!

It wasn’t. It was sent 2 hours and 48 minutes after the shooting.

tweet-time5

The same process will reveal the Unix timestamp of the tweet to be 1440595878 which turns out to be 9:31am EST.

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