Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Twitter Vs Facebook


I like to think of myself as something of a Twitter pioneer. 

I found the site before anyone I knew back in January 2009.  Admittedly it was to be a full 18 months from that first incarnation to evolve from the single tweet I had posted at that point.  As any user knows, there comes a time when you suddenly experience that moment which resembles an epiphany as everything just falls into place.  For me personally the platform represented an ideal resource for promoting the Chagos cause I work on, as well as sharing my renewed desire for writing.

Facebook on the other hand is something I really struggled with.  I guess my main failure was using the social network almost as I would use Twitter.  That was to try and engage people on the site with issues I felt strongly about.  Political campaigns, Chagos petitions, articles, documentaries, news reports and the rest.

A short while after experiencing that moment of truth on Twitter, I remember someone posting a tweet which to this day is the expression I have continued to quote since: 

"Twitter makes you want to have a drink with people you don’t know while Facebook makes you want to throw a drink over people you do know."

In the last twelve months I have become more and more disillusioned with the entire Facebook experience.  I struggled to understand where it could have a role to play in the changing world we inhibited, even more so as our use of the internet was geared towards mobile technology.

Yet a recent experience gave me an opportunity to analyse something which some of us are unfortunate to go through.  And if you’re like me, you get to ride the rollercoaster not twice but three times in eight years. 

Ten days ago my friend was shot dead in his own car.  Coupled with the events of September 2004 and December 2006 it was to be the third time that someone I knew was to be taken violently.  A second victim to gun crime alone.  The trouble with experiencing that much grief in such a short space of time is that when the next train pulls into the station, you can still see the lights from the departing carriage which hasn’t quite pulled away yet.  The result is that emotionally you are effectively crushed between the trains.

Given the fact that I had not been anything like into social networking as I had been in 2004 and 2006 as I was in 2012, it provided an opening for an interesting experiment to see how the platforms vary in terms of their usefulness when dealing with grief.  And it really didn’t take long to recognise the contrasting qualities as well.

Twitter doesn’t do personal or emotions.  It’s very clinical.  It doesn’t care that my friend left a four week old child behind, or that I had been with him two days before his death.  It doesn’t care who mourns him, the devastated family and friends who have even more questions to pose, none of which will be answered adequately.

Facebook is all about emotions; it cares about not just what is being felt, but by whom.  It provides the support structure to work through the initial trauma and shock all the way to the hope that is needed to overcome the despair.  It provides a forum for friends to come together to recall happier times, to reinforce the pleasant memories which seem so distant in the dark days after such an event.

It is here that we understand where the platforms help in different ways.  Facebook will provide a lot of the immediate assistance needed in the days that follow such a tragedy.  Twitter is incapable of providing anything like this in the aftermath of such disruption, but will provide the stage for the long term questions which will arise once the initial dust has settled.

Twitter will be the platform which will answer the broader questions such as why gun crime is once again rising in Nottingham after almost a decade of continual decline.  It will analyse the social impacts of the event, in much wider terms.  It will offer long term solutions to the conundrums which will prevent another family going through the grief of burying their son or daughter.

Facebook cannot replicate this; such discussions are largely ignored or even bypassed by members of our network for fear of evoking controversial confrontations with people we otherwise get on with.  (Or you could be like my aunt and just fire the equivalent of a nuclear missile anyway!)

And herein lies the key difference: we reserve total and complete jurisdiction over who we wish to follow on Twitter, while on Facebook we are largely confined to people we are related to, once worked with or went to school with.  The reality is we rarely find ourselves falling out with members of our Twitter network because they have been handpicked to reinforce our own views, usually politically.

It would appear that Facebook does have a role to play in the future of social networking.  There are some things that Twitter just cannot do.  As someone who probably holds the record for account deactivations in the last twelve months, I would probably say that is something positive to take away from the experience.  But going forwards, Twitter still represents the platform I will continue to utilise more, if only because with the past ten days aside, I am more concerned with the quest for justice for the Chagossians than how Jack and Jill are feeling today.

I was in a long term relationship during the episodes of 2004 and 2006, so even as someone who should know this bumpy road all too well, it was still a new journey for me to travel this time around.  A young lady provided a level of support and maturity which belied the fact that she was eight years younger than me.  Words will never begin to describe the debt of gratitude I owe, and this post is dedicated to her as well as Germaine, Duane and Natasha.