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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Friends versus Followers: A latecomer’s personal experience of joining Facebook and Twitter

I remember the moment when I had to get plugged into email, some time in the mid-to-late 1990s. I was on the phone and he asked me: What’s your email? I had no answer. He said: oh. It was the way he said it. I knew I had to get an email address sorted immediately.

With social media it was much more gradual. For about a decade, the social media were sold to me as mechanisms for me to influence the world. But during that same decade my desire to influence the world slackened, and a rule of mine is: do not unleash solutions upon circumstances which are not a problem. So, no social media. But as time passed, I realised that I wasn’t just not changing the world, I was ceasing to understand it. The more I read things, the more I heard echoes of social media conversations and dramas of which I had no direct knowledge, which had been going on for a fortnight or more before I even heard rather confusing reports about whatever it was. I was losing touch. (In particular I failed to understand the last two US Presidential elections.)

So it was that, finally, years after most others of my acquaintance, I have now plugged myself into Facebook and into Twitter.

Not that this was easy, mind you. They kept asking me to type in bits of code which I had just asked them to send to me and which they claimed that they had just sent to me but which they never did send to me. But, with help, I eventually got it all sorted. Having waited a decade, the further wait wasn’t a problem.

First impression: I greatly prefer Twitter to Facebook. Indeed “greatly” doesn’t communicate the gulf. Twitter is, for me, now, very useful. Facebook is, for me, not useful, at all, not yet and maybe not ever.

The basic reason for this disparity of usefulness is that whereas I think I am pretty sure that I understand what Twitter means by the word “follower”, I have no clear idea at all of what Facebook means by the word “friend”.

As soon as I got connected to Facebook, a hoard of total strangers sent me emails (or Facebook sent me emails about them) referring to “notifications”, which said something along the lines of: let’s be friends. Who were these people? They didn’t seem like “friends”. More like email spammers. And what would it mean for me to be a “friend” of them? If I shared a home with a Facebook veteran all this would no doubt have been explained to me in about half a minute. But, I do not.

Some of the names involved in these Facebook “notifications” I recognised. These were the names of actual friends. I now have three Facebook “friends” who are also real life friends. But frankly, I am learning a lot less about these Facebook-and-real-life friends than I thought I would. I do, after all, possess and make use of: a telephone. And given how little I have learned about these genuine friends from their Facebook postings, I am not inclined to venture further into the great, for me, confusion that is Facebook.

It is always pleasing to see one’s immediate personal reactions seeming to be echoed by others, and I am pleased to note that Facebook is being criticised by others who know much more about it than I do. In particular, it is being accused of deranging rather than enhancing people’s social lives, crucially their friendships, and even, to some extent, driving them a bit mad. Perhaps this is just the usual moaning whenever you get a new technique of communication springing upon the world, but I’d be interested to hear what others say about these sorts of complaints.

Twitter, on the other hand, is a new friend.

“Follower” is a concept that made and makes, to me, immediate sense. No doubt the way that Twitter defines “follower” has ramifications and subtleties of which I am unaware, but the basic idea coincides with reality in a way that Facebook’s notion of “friend”, to me, absolutely does not.

My arrival on Twitter coincided almost exactly with the explosion into something resembling mass celebrity of Jordan Peterson, author of the current best seller 12 Rules For Life. This is a man whom I had already noticed, but whom a whole new slice of humanity is now noticing. And I too am now “following” Jordan Peterson.

But there is no suggestion, from Twitter or from anyone else, that Jordan Peterson is “following” me, and certainly not that he and I are in any sense “friends”. To Jordan Peterson, I am but one tiny blip in a cacophony of new-found celebrity. The concept of me being Jordan Peterson’s “follower”, in other words, precisely describes what is going on and, equally importantly, what is not going on. I am following him. He has no idea of my existence.

Twitter, in other words, makes sense to me because it separates two utterly distinct concepts: me paying attention to you, and you paying attention to me. Twitter also makes sense because attention is just that and only that, attention. It is the lowest form of human relationship, and anyone can start doing it, to anyone they learn about, whenever they please.

There are many more things to be said about Twitter and Facebook, and perhaps commenters on this will say some of these things. (I’m thinking of such matters as the ongoing debate about how and how much Twitter and Facebook are politically biased, and how much that matters.) But for now, instead of speculating about things that others know a lot more about than I do, I will instead turn my attention to concocting further Samizdata postings concerning the things which Twitter has told me about. And which Facebook has not.

One final point. Some of my favourite Tweets have come to me courtesy of this excellent man. No pressure was put upon me to say that, but say it I do. This elephant doing some tidying up, which this man retweeted a few days ago, is particularly wonderful. Jordan Peterson would surely approve.

33 comments to Friends versus Followers: A latecomer’s personal experience of joining Facebook and Twitter

  • Stonyground

    My wife set up my Facebook account for me. I needed it because this is the way that my triathlon club communicates with the world. So I am now able to pick up on communications about various activities that are going on but, apart from that, I really don’t get the point of it. Like you I’m constantly being bombarded with references to total strangers and ‘notifications’ none of which Interest me in the slightest. There seems to be an infinite branching tree of stuff and I am unaware of how to separate the tiny part that I’m interested in from the huge pile of irrelevant crap.

  • Greg

    Yeah, but they are “free”. “…if you aren’t the customer, then you’re the product…” Don’t know the origin of that or the exact quote, but it applies to Facebook for sure. Less sure about Twitter.

    I tried the latter many, many years ago, but after the 9th post by my niece about what bird had landed in her yard, I quit.

    Thanks for this posting Brian, I will now have another look at Twitter.

  • I can just about tolerate twitter until something better gains traction (perhaps Gab.ai or perhaps not).

    After using Facebook for several years, I finally came to truly understand it… and thus I deleted my page & deactivated the account quite some time ago & have had no urge whatsoever to go back. Indeed I think Facebook represents much of when went horribly wrong with the internet systemically. It also helps to understand Facebook when you realise you are not a ‘customer’ of theirs, not really, you are their product, you are what they sell to advertisers. The same is true of YouTube in fact, and if you do anything to mess that up, they will make sure you know that you can just GTFO 😉

  • I was on Facebook for a while, and most of my “friends” were real-life friends. I learned things about their politics I really wish I hadn’t. I left Facebook, and did what they said would erase my record there. I have no idea if it did, but at least I don’t need to watch the meltdowns.

  • Alisa

    It all depends on one’s purpose. From my POV, FB is most useful for groups of people – either existing ones, or ones that someone would like to form, or existing ones that one would like to expand. The initial basis of such groups can be anything (legal, that is), such as personal friendships, political affiliations, commercial interests (with limitations placed by FB on the latter), etc.

    Technically, FB groups can be formal or informal.
    The former is something that FB is quite good at, by providing a fairly sophisticated mechanism for managing the various types of groups, including their accessibility by outsiders, their control by their creators and administrators, organizing real-life events, etc.

    Informal groups on FB are not really groups in the technical sense, but are just several individuals connected by the FB “friendship” mechanism – based, again, on anything, but often on real-life friendships.

    Another useful function of FB is the ability to follow ‘pages’ set up by organizations of one’s interest (such as news outlets, blogs, and similar). For me this is basically an alternative to RSS feeds.

    The rest (unless I’m forgetting something) is various exhibitionists, attention seekers, and people selling stuff – not different from the same types on Twitter I think, but with a much larger text allowance.

    As to political bias, I know of no real difference between FB and Twitter. In my view, there are serious concerns with FB approach to their users’ privacy, which I cannot compare to Twitter since I’m not using it.

  • Mr Ed

    I get all my sunglasses on Facebook.

  • Watcher

    They all ‘track’ you to gain an insight into your potential buying habits, but I found FB tracked me way more than Twitter. For all its faults, I tend to regard Twitter as a news source but its format does encourage brevity and therefore wit, and certainly cuts the waffling.

    I left FB some time ago and as I have pro-Agent Cob lefties in my larger family so I wasn’t happy to have to read some of the enthusiastic drivel — and see earnest related images — that passes for political insight in their circles (I have no time, alas, to read the deep insights gained from a poetry afternoon for women only in Islington, the attendees who all amazingly had the same shared delight in our future islamo-communist government). However I must equally say one of my sons stopped following me on Twitter as, he said, he didn’t like my politics. As he is now living in Cuckada and voted Trudeau, I may not be entirely distressed over this loss of a follower. He is still my son of course but we wisely we avoid political discussion.

    Odd thing about FB, if this is true, was in the movie about FB’s founder it appears the original idea for the platform was to rate the ‘hotness’ of women at a college in the US. I am vaguely surprised the feminist side of modern life hasn’t condemned him or his product so far over this, but maybe they are okay with the idea because hey, you can have kittens on it and also see pussy hat images. Dunno, but then it was a movie and they are notoriously untrue.

    I expect in the fullness of time, Twitter will become so left-wing that it becomes unusable. Maybe then someone else (minds or gab, perhaps) will step up to save us all. But then, it is only tinterwebz…

  • bobby b

    GAB.ai missed the boat, in my mind. They could have stepped up and taken in a lot of people who found the administrative partisanship of Twitter stifling.

    Instead, they proudly became the home for Stormtroopers with Tourettes.

  • Alisa

    I’m watching out for Minds, but so far nothing exciting. And, their mobile app is appalling – personally I don’t mind, but I think a lot of potential users do.

  • Jim

    I made the conscious decision to stay away from social media about a decade ago, when they were getting going, and nothing I’ve seen since has made me regret it one bit.

  • Diogenes

    I am surprised that you don’t see the differences. Facebook is a newspaper where you can control the flow of incoming information and contribute to it. You might make your newspaper about you and your family. You can widen out to chosen friends and neighbours, people you met on holiday, worked with, studied alongside… It is up to you. And you can receive feeds without responding.

    Twatter is like entering a beehive. Opinionated fools screaming at each other. Virtue signalling as if different viewpoints are impossible.

    Twitter is for St Just.
    Facebook is for Danton

  • GAB.ai missed the boat, in my mind. They could have stepped up and taken in a lot of people who found the administrative partisanship of Twitter stifling. Instead, they proudly became the home for Stormtroopers with Tourettes.

    Possibly, which is why I was rather qualified with my hope that it might be a viable twitter alternative. Might just need to wait for The Next Thing.

  • You might make your newspaper about you and your family. You can widen out to chosen friends and neighbours, people you met on holiday, worked with, studied alongside… It is up to you

    Why would I need Facebook for that? Frankly Instagram does a better job in that role for me, and mine is mostly pictures of cocktails. Facebook has too much baggage in the background for me.

  • Runcie Balspune

    They all ‘track’ you to gain an insight into your potential buying habits

    I heard about this Chrome plug-in about a year ago, I don’t, and never will, have Facebook, so it would be interesting if anyone tries this.


  • Facebook is toxic, stay away from it unless you manage it carefully.

    Twitter is good for laughs, but addictive.

  • bobby b

    Back maybe ten or twelve years ago, when FB was a few years old and the kidlets were in their pre-teens/early teens, it became wildly popular and also useful to parents.

    The kids all set up FB pages, showed me how to do the same, proudly friended me, and then (since I never posted anything) promptly forgot I was there.

    I spent the next four years getting notifications that all seemed to start with “god, I hope Dad doesn’t find out about this . . .”

  • Paul Marks

    I am on Twitter and Facebook – but I spend very little time on Twitter and vastly TOO MUCH time on Facebook.

    People putting me into Facebook “Groups” was why the time I spend dealing with Facebook stuff is so absurdly high.

  • Twitter also has practical use among the sports fans I know: when a player gets injured in a game, the reporters will usually tweet when they get more information on the injury. It’s also become a way they report the trades/transfers.

  • llamas

    It will be a cold day in Hell before you see me on any social media platform. Freezing cold. They are all data-mining and aggregation systems tarted up as convenient communications tools. No, Thank You. I work hard to frustrate data-mining and -aggregation about me and mine (you should see some of the junk-mail we get) and I’ve sent enough misinformation fireships out into the network that have come back to me in the most surprising ways that I grasp that the potential for Bad Things happening is very high. No reason to make them more-likely. Anyone I really care about has my real phone number. Nobody else does. Good enough for me.



  • Tony Harrison

    Facebook is occasionally useful to me as a broadcast medium to my range of associates – it was incredibly useful at a time of great disruption (earthquake) when phone systems were iffy. Otherwise, for me, it is a social step up from texting, but comes with a certain amount of “overhead” – unsolicited contacts and so on.
    On the other hand, I have completely ceased to have any interaction with twitter. Being of a microscopically small degree to the right of extreme left I just got utterly sick of being piled on by a bunch of hysterical harpies as soon as I crossed some invisible line. Want to test this? Try being anything other than relentlessly negative about The Donald and see what happens. It is a lefty echo chamber.

  • Twitter is great as a means of getting the latest news, be it sport, politics, finance or local issues. And for sharing information or publicising the latest post on the blog. It is my goto site for virtually everything. I’m not sure how I would manage without it.

    I used to use FB to keep up with friends back in Blighty, but now it’s really just a means for information about events I’m attending or local interest/hobby groups. I could leave tomorrow and only be ever so mildly inconvenienced.

    With both sites, I think that the more one fine-tunes how one uses them, the better and more useful the experience. It takes time to make them work properly for you. I’m not sure I’ve ever really got there with Facebook.

    And yes, I recognise that they are likely both (FB especially) mining shedloads of information about me, but good luck to them. I am deeply, deeply uninteresting and have very few worries about the CIA coming crashing through my front door simply because Mark Zuckerberg told them I was into beagle hustling or some such. (I do recognise that this probably isn’t the correct platform for this sort of opinion.)

  • JadedLibertarian

    I briefly had a Facebook account. I closed it. I kept getting “friend” requests from people I knew at high school. I didn’t want to be rude but that’s a period of my life of really rather not dwell upon, so I closed it.

    I still have LinkedIn for work which is much less annoying. The most annoying thing about LinkedIn are the obvious Facebook users who don’t get the difference. If I’ve never actually had any contact with you, then no, I don’t want you in my professional network…

    I read Twitter quite a lot, but I can do that without actually having an account (although they pimp them pretty hard). The big brother tendencies are getting annoying though. For certain classes of current events the filtering is very obvious. Major news stories, but you type them into Twitter and get one or two carefully vetted results with no comments. Clearly they’re “muting” whole topics lest anyone say something illegal.

  • Alisa

    Regarding the collection of personal data, you don’t have to put any personal info in your account, other than your name. I manage my use of FB quite carefully, it has become a habit, and as such not really time-consuming. For example, I post almost nothing on my public “wall”, and when I do, it is usually stuff that I choose carefully. The consequence of this is getting very few “friends” requests, and when they do come I can review each one and decide whether I want to accept it or not.

    With both sites, I think that the more one fine-tunes how one uses them, the better and more useful the experience. It takes time to make them work properly for you.

    Exactly, as with many other sophisticated tools (although FB strikes me as far more sophisticated than Twitter).

    Twitter is in fact a great way of getting news, but I see enough of it “retweeted” on FB, so I feel no real need to use Twitter directly.

    Sorry Paul, I had no idea it was such a burden for you… A tip, for you and others: turn off your email notifications, and use the sites directly: you will see all your notifications right there, you will be able to turn off the ones you are not interested in, reject friendship request or even block people you don’t want to see, such as spammers and similar, etc. It will save you a lot of time and brain energy. If you are going to use the platform, better make it efficient by learning the various tools it offers – which is not to say that you must use it: like I said, it’s just a tool that you can use or choose not to use.

    Speaking of Paul, he posts some very interesting stuff on FB (I know, surprise!), so at least for some here it may be worth joining even just for that purpose.

  • Runcie Balspune

    [LinkedIn] If I’ve never actually had any contact with you, then no, I don’t want you in my professional network…

    Whilst I am generally against “the customer is the product” services, I do find LinkedIn quite useful, particularly for job applications. However, as was said, there are those who treat it like Facebook, and even worse, those who spam it to oblivion, I get endless requests to connect to recruitment agents who have a “professional network” in the thousands, thus making my whole 2nd level network useless.

    In the IT world, there are many professionals who use communication products sensibly, because they probably understand what the intended goal of the product is, but just like the “reply-all” idiot on email and the “can i ask a quick question” interrupter on chat, there will always be those who just can’t see the bigger picture and actually ruin the product through abuse, for Facebook this is probably close to 100% of users.

    The biggest danger in using Facebook et al is the audit trail, which will quite neatly come back to haunt you one day, best to never say anything lest your innocent comment ends up as the next hashtag campaign. Mind you, social media history has neatly skewered a whole host of useless and nefarious politicos for us, so it’s got that going for it, which is nice (damn, where is my anti-meme spray again?).

  • Brian Micklethwait (London)

    Just to say, before this comment thread goes dead: thanks for all these comments. I have found them very informative.

    People who have been using these things for a decade probably find it hard to understand how little someone like me understands what is going on.

  • Facebook constanmtly sends me updates about what people on my friends list are doing, updates that I don’t care in the slightest about and don’t want to receive. I’ve tried to stop this happening, but when you do that Facebook then fails to pass on messages you’ve been sent. It seems the only way to get messages passed on is to allow the annoying notifications. Or just visit Facebook regularly, which I don’t want to do.

  • Mr Ed

    I have found some odd things happened on my Facebook page, getting obvious ‘spammers’ and getting suggested ‘friends’. I know that you can ask it to scan your email address or recent contacts list for potential ‘friends’ (not that I did), and I found that an employee at a former client was suggested as a ‘friend’. As I had used with him an email that Facebook would not have ‘seen’ (AFAIK), I did wonder if Facebook had got his email address book and found my other email as a potential match to me, or if its app had been able to see my other email contacts and had harvested them.

    I also find that there is far too much politics pushed my way on Facebook, I have de-activated (but not deleted) my account as I really couldn’t bear all the nonsense pushed my way, as well as being asked if I would ‘like’ Shelob’s page. I think that 6000 above sums it up very well. I did find FB useful for keeping up with various historical societies.

    Twitter I closed shortly after opening an account, it was just nonsense.

  • Rob Fisher

    Facebook seems perfectly functional for sending messages to your (actual) friends, saying happy birthday to them, and sharing holiday photos. It’s quite useful for the (actual) friends one does not see very often. It is also useful for keeping up to date on Where In The World Michael Jennings Is. It gets unpleasant when people try to do political commentary with it.

  • bobby b

    “People who have been using these things for a decade probably find it hard to understand how little someone like me understands what is going on.”

    You’re not alone (as regards Twitter.)

    Having never tweeted and not following any Twits, I’m wondering how people get news over Twitter. Don’t you just get tweets from people you have followed? Where does the news come from?

  • People you follow post links to news stories they find interesting (usually along with their own comment), and you can click on those.

    Plus people you follow may provide extra detail from more obscure news sources, detail that the mainstream media often conveniently fails to provide.

    (So a lot like old-fashioned blogs in that respect.)

  • Alisa

    Don’t you just get tweets from people you have followed? Where does the news come from?

    The news originate where they always do: MSM and some ‘new media’ such as blogs. The thing with Twitter (and to an extent FB) is that you can follow people who seem to share your interests regarding news, but devote much more time and attention to it than you may be able to afford. If you manage to form the right mix of such people, you will get a mix of news (plus commentary) that’s right for you.

  • the other rob

    Y’all are doing FaceButt wrong. The trick is to have an account under an assumed name and to use it to buy and sell guns.

  • Michael Jennings

    I have friends who are scattered around the world, and Facebook is extremely useful to me in terms of keeping up with them, and letting me know when we are physically nearby each other so that we can then catch up in person. I also find that when I am travelling and I meet someone new briefly, saying “Are you on Facebook” and one of us sending a friend request to the other is a great way of creating the possibility of staying in touch. it’s a much less aggressive way of doing this than (say) asking for an e-mail address or phone number, one that requires less subsequent effort, and one that can be withdrawn by either party at any time. I have made actual good friends this way, have had people defriend me the moment I left the room, and everything in between. (I would recommend sending a friend request to anyone you spend time drinking with in backpackers hostels in Chisinau – I have made two quite good friends that way (on separate occasions) as well as two other people who are sufficiently good acquaintances that we would likely catch up and say hi if we were ever in the same town again). Facebook has also helped me turn friends of friends (and friends of friends of friends) into actual friends, so this is also good.

    On the other hand, I am quite guarded about what I talk about on Facebook and I have a *very* limited amount of personal information on my account. I don’t talk about what I am thinking or feeling or about politics except in a rather oblique way, I don’t talk about work – at all, to the extent that you won’t have the slightest idea what I do for a living from reading my Facebook profile. (Only one person from high school has ever found me on Facebook – someone I did not know very well). What I do put on Facebook is lots of photos from my travels, and posts of a few paragraphs about *stuff* that I might be thinking about. Once upon a time I might have put those thoughts on this blog. These days I tend to just throw them on Facebook.

    Instagram I tend to use solely for posting pictures of food. I find Instagram limiting because it is all about the pictures, and I am more interested in words than pictures. On the other hand, I can see why some people prefer it, because words on Facebook are dangerous. There is nothing more tiresome that people who talk about politics and nothing else on Facebook all the time. Getting into political arguments on Facebook is best avoided, but if you are someone who doesn’t mind having friends who do not share your politics and who at least don’t feel the need to throw their politics at you all the time, it can be a nice place for conversation with such people.

    As for Twitter – it doesn’t really work for me. Someone in this thread said that the character limit gets rid of the guff. I find it also gets rid of all the subtlety and nuance. When I write to communicate, I find everything is the subtlety and nuance. Communicating with Twitter is like communicating with Powerpoint. Some people can do this – I am not one of them. Twitter is of course good at promoting things you have written (or other people have written), and if you want to do that – or have other people do that to you – it might be good. Basically, though, I turn on Twitter and after a couple of days of seeing people screech at one another, I leave. I seem to follow the Zeitgeist and find the interesting things to read in other ways – many of them still blogs, in truth.

    The thought of using LinkedIn simply makes me shudder with horror.

    Could I post the things I post on Facebook on this blog or some other blog and then promote those posts from Twitter or Facebook? Or possibly crosspost them to Facebook and link to them from Twitter? I suppose so. Really, though, what I have discovered is that I just don’t care. I’m not particularly interested in finding an audience for things that I write. Writing is more a way of putting my own thoughts in order.