What is Better for Learning: Twitter or Facebook?


The below is speculative and more based on personal experience than data, but it’s what I was thinking about this Saturday morning.

There’s a lot of talk about Facebook trying to bring outside news and policy media into its internal workings. See here and here.

Much of this talk seems to be about whether or not this will be good for media companies. This is not totally surprising given that media companies are the ones publishing these articles.

Another way to approach the issue is by asking whether or not it will be good for learning. It is not surprising that this is what I want to talk about given that this is an education blog.

How I Use Twitter and Facebook

I may not be a typical user for either site, but I use Twitter to gain information from experts (usually regarding policy), and I use Facebook to gain information from friends (usually regarding their joys and mishaps in parenting).

With Twitter, I follow a pretty diverse group of folks, and I get exposed to a wide variety of expert opinion.

With Facebook, I follow friends whose opinions are much closer to each other than not (my Facebook skews very liberal), and I get exposed to mostly non-expert opinion (I love my friends but many of them aren’t policy experts).

All in all, I find the rigor of policy thinking on my Twitter feed to be 100x the rigor of policy thinking on my Facebook feed.

I love my friends, but I don’t personally know that many Nobel Prize winners. On Twitter I have direct access to many of them, so it is not surprising (nor should it be a knock on my friends), that the rigor of policy discourse is higher on twitter feed.

I also find the emotional connectivity of my Facebook feed to be 100x that of my Twitter feed.

I love my twitter feed, but I don’t particularly care about the antics of the children of Nobel Prize Winners. On Facebook I have access to the family stories that I care about, so it is not surprising (nor should it be a knock on Nobel Prize winners), that I feel more emotionally connected to my Facebook feed.

Social Filtering, Social Commentary

Another way to think about it is this: on Facebook, information is first socially filtered (it must come through my friends) and then it is socially commented upon (my friends publicly comment on pieces).

This structure of information gathering is perfectly suited to reinforcing tribes: information is controlled by the tribe, and then one can pledge allegiance to the tribe via low-cost signaling in the form of commenting.

Of course, the answer could be that I should diversify my friends. But, to be honest, I don’t really want to. I don’t choose my friends based on their political beliefs, and I don’t really want to feel obligated to go make new friends to gain access to new information.

There are much more efficient ways to gain new information. Like having a diverse Twitter feed, for example. Or going out to coffee with people who are different than you.

And there are much better ways (at least for me) to select friends, such as considering mutual interests, loyalty, and sense of humor.

In Sum

Facebook has many virtues. But it is unclear that to me that learning is one of them.

If you want to be informed about a variety of issues, my suggestion is to build a twitter feed that is composed of diverse experts.

To the extent that Facebook becomes (or already is) people’s main source of information, I don’t think this will make us smarter.

But maybe I have this wrong?

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