When it comes to the battle between Twitter and Facebook, there is no doubt which is the more commercially successful. After a difficult initial floatation, Facebook has emerged to become significantly profitable, while Twitter is struggling to monetize its content. There is no doubt that Twitter has become significantly popular, but for the time being Facebook remains the number one social media site in the world.
However, with more and more people utilizing social media as a way to keep up with current events, which of the two platforms provides a better package for those wanting to keep up with the news?
Facebook vs. Twitter: Which one’s best for news?
Handling breaking news
One of the biggest news stories of 2014 was the shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson. This became massive national news, and it was widely reported at the time that Twitter was buzzing with breaking news about events in the town at the time of these incidents. By contrast, it was noted that Facebook was almost completely silent on the subject. This suggested that there may be an underlying difference between the two platforms.
While in principle one wouldn’t necessarily expect Twitter and Facebook users to be fundamentally different, the way that the two sites operate has steadily evolved to create some distance between them. Undoubtedly, Facebook is more corporate-focused, and Twitter is to some extent seen as site which everyday people utilize to simply give their opinions and spread information.
In line with this, the underlying mechanics of the two social media sites are completely different, and this has perhaps contributed to differing user behaviors on the two sites, as well as different types of people being attracted to them. Due to the relatively short posts which are used on the site, Twitter has an extremely rapid nature, which makes it perfect for updating news during events that are developing in real-time.
Facebook has attempted to ape this quality of Twitter by providing a real-time activity feed on the right-hand side of the main newsfeed on the site. This provides users with information regarding when people have liked a post, as well as other morsels of news. But its design is not ideal to enable users to follow a breaking news story with ease.
Twitter is also a more lightweight site, while Facebook is densely-packed with features which makes it more difficult for the site to process information speedily. With fast-breaking and developing stories such as Ferguson, this makes it extremely difficult for Facebook to keep up with Twitter.
Facebook and in-depth reporting
Of course, it is also worth noting that Facebook makes reporting on a story in depth considerably easier than Twitter. Although the concept of multiple tweets following on from one another evolved on Twitter a long time ago, the owners of the site appear to have no plans to extend individual tweet limits beyond the existing 140 characters. This means that reports on Facebook can much more closely resemble fully-fledged news reports, whereas Twitter only ever provide snippets of information, albeit on an almost geometric scale.
However, much though it is possible to customize Facebook in order for it to act something like a newsfeed, there is one overwhelming factor which tends to work against the site as a source of breaking news. The way that Facebook algorithms alter what we see when we sign on to Facebook greatly affects its efficacy in this department.
Our newsfeed on Facebook is filtered based on our past activity, such as the things we have actively liked, commented on, or chose to share. Of course, the problem with this is that many breaking news stories bear absolutely no resemblance to anything that we’ve ever shown interest in previously, and in this sense Facebook will effectively filter them out of our user experience.
Twitter is an extremely powerful source of communal news exactly because it operates like a community. Facebook, by contrast, is very much akin to a digital version of a newspaper behind a paywall; a selective system which provides information that it believes users and readers will want to know, or which it considers commercially viable for the site and its sponsors, rather than enabling Facebook users to choose for themselves.
Facebook algorithms detrimental
No-one knows quite how the Facebook algorithms work except people who are central to the company, but just as Google algorithms have become key to its success, so the same is the case for Facebook. There is little chance of this changing, but ultimately, the very qualities which have ensured that Facebook is a commercially successful site, and one that particularly appeals to the corporate sector, count against it as a source of news.
If Twitter is to achieve profitability in the long-term then it should seek to take advantage of its own unique qualities, rather than imitating the model which has been successfully operated by Facebook.