Twitter is to radio as Facebook is to newspapers. One breaks news, the other digests it and adds context.
You cannot follow current events on Facebook, it’s impossible. The algorithm will filter and feed you what is important, not necessarily what is happening. Twitter, on the other hand, is instantly searchable, sortable, and can provide breaking news as it is happening. Despite its ubiquity, Facebook is broken for breaking news, and we got more proof of that this week with the events in Ottawa.
Newspapers are not good for breaking news. They are about what has already happened, not what is happening. They provide context, depth, and detail. You go there to understand after the fact.
Twitter and Facebook have divided themselves on similar cultural lines. Breaking news is for twitter, dissection and detail consumption is for Facebook.
You Have To Teach Facebook
Robert Scoble and Leo Laporte have been having a back and forth about Facebook over the past month. Scoble insists Facebook can be used for breaking news, Laporte disagrees. Scoble bolsters his claim by saying a cultivated newsfeed will bring results to users – but only if they cultivate it.
Frankly, who has the time? Many of us lurk on social networks, interested by the information and connections, but wary to like, share, and jump in to the conversations. By Scoble’s assertions, if you are just a lurker, you will not get relevance from the Facebook feed. It won’t know what you like, and will just feed you what the rest of your friends like. Conversely, like too many things, and your feed will become a bizarre echo chamber as demonstrated by Mat Honan in an experiment for Wired.
My News Feed took on an entirely new character in a surprisingly short amount of time. After checking in and liking a bunch of stuff over the course of an hour, there were no human beings in my feed anymore. It became about brands and messaging, rather than humans with messages.
Facebook’s algorithm makes it impossible to follow current events. Facebook sorts by popularity, guaranteeing Ice Bucket Challenge videos beat breaking news every time. Even when you select the “most recent” tab. I don’t get a firehose of posts, as they happen, Facebook still curates the posts out of order. If a post from the night before is getting comments, it will show up in my feed again and again ahead of breaking news.
Twitter Just Works
When a soldier is gunned down at Canada’s War Memorial and shots ring out in Parliament, I turned to Twitter for blow by blow reaction as the details are breaking. Journalists were chiming in with instant thoughts. Facebook’s algorithm can’t keep up, it just can’t compete for breaking news (no matter what Scoble says).
— Steve Ladurantaye (@sladurantaye) October 23, 2014
I have all of my Facebook feeds set to always show me “most recent” updates. That doesn’t always mean most recent posts will get shown, it just means the most recently active posts filter to the top of my stream. So, when looking for news on Facebook about Ottawa, I get stale information more than 5 hours old:
In fact the shooter had been killed. While many were still in lockdown, the situation was over. Yet Facebook found it necessary to bubble this obsolete information to the top of my feed. In a breaking news situation where facts are fluid, and information is constantly evolving, having this stale story pushed out in my feed is almost dangerous. You’re no longer giving your audience current and relevant information.
However, Facebook will be relevant in the aftermath of this tragedy. Later this week, those same journalists who were in lockdown will tell the stories of the day in thousand word think pieces, and those links will start to be shared on Facebook – the conversation will continue in those comment threads. The popular ones will bubble through the algorithm and further the conversation. Facebook is very good at this. But for breaking news? God no.
How To Filter Breaking News On Twitter
Steve Ladurantaye, Twitter Canada’s News and government partnerships head, has been giving great updates on how to track breaking news via Twitter and, despite all of Scoble’s protestations and promises, Facebook will never be able to match that fluid, instantaneous stream of information.
For breaking news? Choose Twitter, just like radio. For understanding details and relevance? Find it in on Facebook, just like newspapers.