Following my earlier blog entry about Twitter chats I was confronted by a familiar charge – ah, Frans Timmermans is a Facebook guy. He doesn’t like Twitter. That’s the problem. There are probably some pretty good reasons he likes Facebook, and not Twitter, and I will come to those at the end of the post.
But, sorry Frans, but I don’t “Like” your page on Facebook, and I have some pretty good reasons for that.
The first, and most minor problem, is my issue with the word. To me “Like” implies endorsing something. Follow (on Twitter) does not. I in no way endorse Frans Timmermans. Oh, you’re exaggerating will come the riposte, yet when I “Liked” Guy Verhofstadt in his bid to become Commission President, friends of mine fired back the accusation that I was wrong to Like Verhofstadt as he’s a liberal and I am leftie. What you like on Facebook comes with a social norm attached. If I saw a journalist Liking politicians it would raise a question mark about their impartiality, and there are personal friends of mine who refuse to Like anything political on Facebook because they fear what work colleagues will make of it.
Second, Facebook is useless for thematic discussion. I might have some interest in what Timmermans does on Better Regulation in Brussels, but I also have interest in what a dozen other politicians might have to say about that. Putting it another way, I want to be able to consume content from people and to consume content by theme. Only by Liking the Facebook pages of a dozen politicians could I possibly follow a thematic debate, and even then it would be split up all over Facebook without any coherence. Hashtags on Twitter are what can hold a thematic discussion together – hashtags on Facebook have never proven to be nearly as effective.
Third, Facebook controls what I see, while on Twitter I am to a much greater extent in control of what I see (and my obsessive use of Twitter Lists and filters in Tweetbot helps further). The problem is Facebook’s News Feed, and its algorithm that will only show me – on average – 1 in 20 posts from a politician’s page, and then according to factors Facebook determines rather than ones I determine. That might be handy for information I was not looking for (it throws up significant developments in friends’ lives, for example) but it’s pretty horrid if I am trying to follow a debate.
Those then are the reasons Twitter works better for EU political debate than Facebook does in my view.
Then finally my feeling about why Facebook appeals to Frans Timmermans: because Facebook inspires a kind of fan-like fervent following for this most supremely confident and charming politician, who gives the impression that he is rather a fan of himself (perhaps with good reason). Frans seems to be more about Frans than he is about the issues – you Like Frans because he is Frans and worth following. That feels good for his ego. And that’s a perfect match on Facebook.