Users of both Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) and Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) have noticed a difference in the amount of raw, unfiltered talk of the shooting incident in Ferguson, MO between the social media platforms. The reason: one platform engages in unbridled censorship.
According to a report in the Washington Post, the Twitter feed is not filtered by algorithms. When people you follow communicate a message, it is delivered into your Twitter stream in real time regardless of content, as one might expect. Not so for Facebook.
Facebook prefers for you not to see viral news
Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) uses algorithms to determine what posts from your friends you see in the news feed. Evidently, Facebook prefers that you not see any critical news or events that might go viral, instead focusing on positive news, cat videos and posts regarding the user’s lunch plans.
“While I've been seeing the same political trending tags, my feed is mundane as usual: a couple is expecting a baby. A recreational softball team won a league championship. A few broader feel-good posts about actor Chris Pratt’s ice bucket challenge to raise awareness and money for ALS, another friend’s ice-bucket challenge, another friend’s ice-bucket challenge… in fact, way more about ice bucket challenges than Ferguson or any other news-making event,” observed Casey Johnston, a columnist for Ars Technica. “In my news feed organized by top stories over the last day, I get one post about Ferguson. If I set it to organize by 'most recent,' there are five posts in the last five hours.”
Johnston notes that the heated debate that is a vibrant democratic society may not be Facebook’s core strength, instead, like the novel 1984, they focus on the positive.
“Content that causes dissension and tension can provide short-term rewards to Facebook in the form of heated debates, but content that creates accord and harmony is what keeps people coming back,” Johnston wrote.
How political discussions divide Facebook friendships?
Johnston backed up the thesis by citing a Georgia Institute of Technology study that notes how political discussions divide Facebook friendships. The study based its thesis on the notion that, because Facebook friend networks are often composed of ‘weak ties’ where the threshold for friending someone is low, users expressing divergent political opinions were viewed as alienating and led to being less popular on the social network. Overall, such an impact “made everyone less likely to speak up on political matters (and therefore, create content for Facebook).”
However, the study’s author noted that "designing social media toward nudging users to strengthen relationships with weak ties with different viewpoints could have beneficial consequences for the platform, users and society," said Catherine Grevet, a researcher who worked on the project.
Twitter, for its part, has viewed its service more as a news feed and has embraced a diversity of opinion and thought.