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Why Twitter is for Ferguson updates and Facebook is for Ice Buckets

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For many, each social network has a different purpose. Facebook may be used to stay in touch with friends, while Twitter is used for news or networking, Instagram is your digital selfie gallery and Google Plus is used for... okay, so no one really uses Google Plus.

This is especially apparent when major news stories sweep the nation. If you've gone anywhere near social media these past couple of weeks, you've probably noticed that the protests in Ferguson, Mo. and videos of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge have taken over your feeds. However, these two topics haven't had the same sort of popularity across all platforms.

Many people have pointed out that updates about the protests in Ferguson tend to dominate their Twitter feeds while all they see on Facebook are new videos of users completing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

On Facebook, stories about Ferguson had 257 referrals on average compared to an average of 2,107 referrals for stories about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, according to data from social media analytics company SimpleReach and as reported by DigiDay. The data also showed that the average number of Facebook interactions (likes, shares, comments) about Ferguson was also lower with an average of 518 interactions compared to an average of 796 for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

So why the difference? For one, Facebook's algorithm filters out what ends up in your news feed. The company hasn't exactly revealed how its algorithm operates, but stories end up in your news feed based in part on the type of interactions you've had on Facebook in the past. On the other hand, Twitter delivers the tweets of the people you follow in real time with no filtering.

In line with that, Facebook might feel the need to keep the content agreeable to keep users happy. "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," Ars Technica's Casey Johnston wrote.

Overall, users see Facebook as a more personal medium where they connect with friends, so they may not want to post controversial updates, Bloomberg Businessweek's Brad Stone points out. In contrast, people use Twitter to connect with colleagues, members of the media and others in the news. "The dialogue there is more chaotic, more serious, more visceral. There is also just as much noise, time-wasting triviality, and plenty of room for grandstanding," Stone wrote.

Some, such as Zeynep Tufekci, assistant professor at the UNC School of Library and Information Science, think there's more to be concerned about Facebook's algorithm beyond just what makes us laugh, click or angry on a social network. "But I wonder: what if Ferguson had started to bubble, but there was no Twitter to catch on nationally? Would it ever make it through the algorithmic filtering on Facebook? Maybe, but with no transparency to the decisions, I cannot be sure," she wrote in a blog post on Medium. 

All of this could change within the coming months. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo announced in May that the platform is experimenting with filters that will better tailor the tweets each individual user sees based on what would be most relevant to his or her preferences. Sounds a lot like Facebook's algorithm, doesn't it?

However, the thing about the Internet is if you want to find out more about a certain topic, there are usually plenty of resources available to quench your curiosity. And if you don't like something, you can easily just exit out of the tab.

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