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Making Sense of Ice Bucket Challenge and Ferguson on Social Media

Aug 25, 2014

It is a tale of two social media sites.                                                       

Credit npr.org

Facebook has been inundated with videos of people taking the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge -- donate $100 to ALS research or take a bucket of ice water over your head.

At the same time, during the height of the tensions in Ferguson, Missouri over the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer, Twitter was on fire with news of the unrest - some of it coming from the scene of the protests.

It was one of the starkest examples yet of the difference between the two social media platforms.

"Facebook delivers information to us with an algorithm, and that algorithm is tailored to what we have done in the past on Facebook and what our friends do on Facebook," explained Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's Sense-Making Project.

"Twitter is an unfiltered medium. You see what other people post and you see it in the order that they posted it. The only choices you have on Twitter is who to follow and who not to follow. On Twitter you tend to get more breaking news. If you are predominantly going to Facebook for news, you are going to miss a lot of breaking, important subjects. If you're only going to Twitter, you're probably going to get the feeling that there's always breaking news, that there's always this sense of urgency."

And even the people who run Twitter have discovered there can be such a thing as too much news.

When people started posting video of of the beheading of photographer Thomas Foley by the militant group ISIS, the unfiltered Twitter feed was - for the first time - filtered.

"That was a seminal moment for Twitter," McBride said. "Twitter is considered an unfiltered medium. That means that there's no gatekeeper. Yet Twitter has taken that video off of everybody's feed and they have banned all of the users who have insisted on posting it.

"I'm not saying that everybody needs to see that video, but there's a certain democratic spirit to being able to post anything you want. Maybe Twitter needs another tool where people can - in a limited environment - post highly disturbing content. I'm not sure though."