Accessibility Settings

color options

monochrome muted color dark

reading tools

isolation ruler
guide social search TikTok Telegram
guide social search TikTok Telegram

Image: Shutterstock


» Guide

Social Search Techniques Using TikTok and Telegram

Read this article in

Methodology Note: I chose English language examples as our user interface because new search options often appear first in English. However, most examples will work in other languages. In addition, I included screenshots to capture how these examples looked at the time conducted the searches. These results may change over time, however.


GIJN published this guide for beginners A Guide to Investigating on TikTok, which will greatly help you understand the basics.

For investigative reporting, I suggest you open each time a new account on TikTok. Why? TikTok is often considered a filter bubble, because it is designed to personalize the content that users see based on their preferences and behavior.

The “filter bubble” is a term used to describe the phenomenon where individuals are increasingly exposed to information and content that aligns with their pre-existing beliefs and interests. This is largely due to the algorithms used by social media platforms and search engines, which are designed to show users content that they are likely to engage with based on their browsing history and other user data.

This personalization in TikTok is partly secret, and partly done through the use of algorithms that analyze users’ interactions with the app, such as the videos they watch, like, share, and comment on.

As a result, the content that users see on TikTok tends to be highly tailored to their individual interests and preferences. Let’s use that to your advantage.

social search TikTok sign-up

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess

Open new accounts

If you used different email-addresses for your Twitter, Facebook, or Google accounts, you already can build three corresponding TikTok accounts linked to these.



TikTok sign-up email social search

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess

Or you can choose to sign up by “user phone or email.” The TikTok account creation begins by default with asking for a phone number. You can change that to “sign up with email.”


Start researching your topic

If you are researching different ways that children can be scammed, start a few searches with these words in it, either as hashtags or keywords. Then, click on “Videos.”

social search TikTok research hashtags

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess


Click on the videos that look the most promising to you, and repeat this a few times. Now you’ve taught the algorithm to just serve more videos on your topic.

The same strategy is wise for YouTube to find obscure material. Open a new YouTube account for just that obscure topic and don’t waver to stay in that filter bubble and let the algorithm do your search work for you.


Telegram is a cloud-based instant messaging application that allows users to send messages, photos, videos, and files to other users or groups. In recent years, Telegram has gained popularity as a communication tool for activists, journalists, and others who value their privacy and security. It has played a big role in the verification of war footage in Ukraine.

A short introduction on Telegram is published by GIJN in How Journalists Can Investigate on Telegram. A good example of how to use it for war reporting is Using Telegram Chats to Reveal Life in Bucha Under Russian Occupation.

In addition to these readers, we suggest you free Telegram from your phone for better search and archiving. Telegram Desktop frees Telegram from your phone. Now you can download the content of any channel. A full explanation can be found in Tips for Archiving Telegram Messages on Russia-Ukraine War.

social search Telegram export function

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess

Telegram for Investigative Reporters

Telegram’s metadata provides valuable information to investigative reporters.

Metadata refers to information about a message that is not part of the message itself. This can include information about the sender, the recipient, the time sent, the location from which the message was sent, and the type of device that was used to send the message. Even though this information is not part of the message content, it can still reveal important details about the message and its context.

For investigative reporters, Telegram’s metadata can be particularly key for several reasons.


It can help reporters identify the source of a message. If a reporter receives an anonymous tip or leak, they may be able to use the metadata to identify where the message was sent from or the type of device that was used to send it. This information can be used to narrow down the list of potential sources and provide important context for the message.


Telegram’s metadata can help reporters understand the timing of a message. If a message is sent at a particular time, this can provide important clues about the event or situation to which the message refers. For example, if a message is sent just before a major news event, this may suggest that the sender had inside knowledge of the event. Messages sent during the middle of the day in Asia might rule out the sender’s location in the Western hemisphere.


Telegram’s metadata can help reporters understand the context of a message and gain insight into the circumstances surrounding the message. This can help reporters better understand the motivations and perspectives of the sender, which can be critical for reporting on complex issues.

Strategy for Exploiting Metadata

From all the social media networks we discussed, Telegram is the only one that features public metadata. So, it makes sense to try to verify information from LinkedIn, Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter with the help of Telegram.

Let’s say we find purported war footage on YouTube, but have no idea when or where it happened. Start by trying to search the same material in Telegram to see if the metadata will tell you more. Here’s is how you do that. We need to find cross-references from one network to the other. If somebody mentions a link to Telegram, it will include “” so we can use that to our advantage.


social search LinkedIn Telegram

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess

Replace the #ukraine for any topic you want to research, with or without a hashtag, but be sure to include “” and search for Posts only.


social search

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess

Facebook shows groups about your topic with this Telegram url prefix in it, which will reveal the group’s Telegram channel.

social search Facebook groups Telegram

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess

Sadly, Facebook doesn’t do a good job here for finding posts. Ask Google to do the work instead.

social search Telegram verify Facebook link

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess


This will work the best, because Twitter allows you to directly search for links.

social search Twitter Telegram

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess


Use Google for this. Not perfect, but you will get some hits.

social search Instagram Telegram

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess


Try your keyword with a hashtag first, and add “http://.”

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess

Example of Metadata

Via Twitter we found these two photos.

social search Twitter images Telegram

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess

Thanks to the link, we get access to the channel where the photo is posted.

social search Twitter image verification Telegram channel

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess

You will get a bit more precise timestamp if you download the photo and look at the filename.

Twitter image timestamp social search Telegram

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess

This means the photo was uploaded at 09:23.56 local time on that day (Nov 3, 2022).

More context

Cross-referencing other social media networks with Telegram can also give you more context. By entering the Telegram channel, you can sometimes get the name of the poster, but if not, at least you will likely find additional posts that could be helpful. For that, you have to click on the Group info in the Telegram desktop app.

Telegram group info social search

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess

It will possibly give you more reference material now.

social search Telegram group details

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess

Most channels also allow you to see who is a member. With that, you can check out what groups you have in common or find new channels by scrutinizing the bios of each member.

Additional Resources

Social Search Techniques Using Facebook, from Henk van Ess

Social Search Techniques Using LinkedIn, from Henk van Ess

Social Search Techniques Using Instagram, from Henk van Ess

Dutch-born Henk van Ess teaches Internet research, social media, and multimedia/cross media. The veteran guest lecturer and trainer travels around Europe doing Internet research workshops. His projects include “Fact-Checking the Web” (CSI Internet), Handbook Datajournalism, and speaking as a social media and web research specialist.

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Republish this article

Material from GIJN’s website is generally available for republication under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license. Images usually are published under a different license, so we advise you to use alternatives or contact us regarding permission. Here are our full terms for republication. You must credit the author, link to the original story, and name GIJN as the first publisher. For any queries or to send us a courtesy republication note, write to

Read Next