Social Studies 101 (On Twitter vs. Facebook)

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Adapted from a 2010 online discussion.

WASHINGTON, DC: I do not consider myself an elitist — elitists tend to belong to that large subclass of people who are of lesser quality than I. But when it comes to social media, I have distinct preferences based on my assessments of humanity. I am an enthusiastic participant in Twitter, yet I find Facebook tedious.

In explaining why, I believe I have produced the most important dissection of the comparative ethos of Twitter vis-a-vis Facebook. I believe it will be studied centuries from now by scholars of the Early Internet Era for evidence of the beginnings of the Great Schism that culminated in the apocalyptic SocialNetWars of 2190-2206.

Here goes:
Facebook is sweeter than Twitter. It is homier. It is cornier. The atmosphere is friendlier. It is a bunch of friends sharing details of their lives; on Facebook, no one thinks it remotely inappropriate to announce that he or she had a nice relaxing weekend with family — indeed, this would be greeted with approval! Others would compare their weekends, favorably or not. Facebook encapsulates the Yiddish word “haimish,” which is defined by Webster’s as “Having qualities associated with a homelike atmosphere; simple, warm, relaxed, cozy, unpretentious, etc.” People blather on and on, knowing they will not be called to task for it, that, indeed, they will be celebrated for their openness and conviviality.


All of this happens because, on Facebook, by general agreement, the stakes are lower. There ARE no stakes, really. It’s a big ol’ group share.

On Twitter, the pace is hectic. People using Twitter are in feverish competition with each other to amuse and impress. This tone is set in the very soul of Twitter — the 140-character limit for each post. Thus, right away, people are challenged to strut their stuff — show how much you can say in this limit, show how concise and witty you can be. The clock is running. Go!

Yes, in Twitter, there is a clock. In Facebook, no. The parallel to football and baseball is apt. Twitterers are football fans. Facebookers are fans of baseball — or, better yet, cricket, where a match can last six days.

Twitter is about competition. It is about one-upsmanship. It is about an endless race to accumulate devotees, or followers. Note the term, “followers,” not “friends.” On Facebook, the people who read what you write are your “friends,” and they are the same people whom you read. Not on Twitter. On Twitter, there are two distinct groups: Your followers, and people you follow. Some Twitter people (me, for example) have thousands of followers, but follow only a few dozen. The more clever you are, the greater this disparity. Filmmaker Errol Morris has carried this to the ultimate, solipsistic end: He has 50,000 followers and follows … no one.

As I long ago pointed out in a tweet, Twitter assigns a Human Worth Value to every participant; this is never actually stated, but it’s there for all to see: All you have to do is to subtract the number of people you follow from the number of people who follow you. The higher the number, the greater your Human Worth. If the number is negative, you are pathetic.

Yes, there are exceptions. Barbara Walters has a net worth of 1,419,540, and her tweets are idiotic and self-serving, but that’s the POINT: Life is unfair; often, the unworthy prosper. Suck it up. And compete to improve your lot.

No one on Twitter would EVER say “I had a nice relaxing weekend with my family.” He’d know he’ll risk losing 15 followers immediately for being so boring. On Twitter, you are not sitting around a friendly hearth, chatting with family. On Twitter, you are on stage, performing. And some people in the audience are bootlegging tomatoes.

Now, why do I prefer this atmosphere to Facebook’s? Because I am wildly competitive, and, fundamentally, a misanthrope. A cynic. An iconoclast. I am a bomb-thrower.

Why does my friend Pat prefer Facebook? Because she is warm and inclusive and friendly. She is an adorable, tail-wagging, peace-loving, bomb-sniffing doggie.

And that’s the difference. Facebook and Twitter divide humanity into its fundamental dualities. Mutt and Jeff. Yin and yang. The alpha and the omega.

That’s just how it is.

Or, as my friend Liz says, “Twitter is all about YOU. Facebook is all about OTHERS. You like yourself more than you like others.”

(c) 2015, THE WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP

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