I recently discovered a fundamental difference between Facebook and Twitter.
As we all continue to find our digital voice and acquire friends and followers, we also slowly and sometimes subconsciously curate our posting for that particular medium. It's nothing to be ashamed of; Brian Williams may come off a bit more cold and stiff on the news but funny and quirky whenever he's on a late-night show or making a cameo appearance. As humans we adapt and often conform both to what's appropriate and what's expected of us.
For many of us, Facebook began as a way to share photos of vacations and see pictures of our friends' funny-looking kids. The "status update" has evolved somewhat, but, generally speaking, it's a forum to share a cute observation, your travel plans, a recipe or a political article that is worth debating. What it's not, I recently learned, is a place to deviate from what your followers expect of you. If you're known to your friends as the guy who shares family photos and an occasional Mitt Romney joke, switching it up with a philosophical moment of introspection can be jarring and concerning to some.
On Twitter, however, the medium is far more accepting of a Sybil-like stream of consciousness ranging from cute anecdotes and Instagram pictures of your cat, to end-of-days predictions if that's your thing. In large part this is due to the reality of friends vs. followers. On Facebook, your friends agree to be your friends based on an unspoken agreement that you are now interested in becoming a part of each other's lives. But on Twitter, well, frankly, your followers aren't agreeing to much at all. The format of Twitter allows it users a generous amount of freedom of expression without social backlash. Frankly, I'd be a lot less insulted if someone decided to opt out of my snarky tweets than photos of my kids' last day of camp.
On Facebook most of your social network is made up of family, friends, co-workers and others who know you in one form or another. Twitter, however, by design, provides the user to follow others without requiring their consent. In fact, one media professional recently told me that 30 percent of the people she follows on Twitter are "hate follows"; people she loves to hate and can't get enough of their ridiculousness. What this provides the tweeter is a sense of freedom to explore their voice to whatever suits them or their particular mood (so long as they can keep it under 140 characters or less). Yes, while some of your Twitter followers are Facebook crossovers and people you know, many would find it thoughtful if you tweet your newfound respect for Haari Krishna while that same post on Facebook would illicit multiple calls to your mother from anyone who saw it on your timeline.
Recently, I treated myself to a new pair of sunglasses right before a weekend with the family in the mountains. No more than 24 hours later I lost them in the lake while attempting to paddle board (another post entirely). It's important to note that I'm a fairly G-d fearing guy who tends to assume that elevators spontaneously opening for me and missed trains tend to have been delivered by the big guy upstairs (another post entirely). Needless to say, I was upset that my new Ray Bans were now 60 feet submerged and I posted to Facebook the following: "Everything may happen for a reason but until you know the reason, the happening part can suck." The very next morning I awoke to multiple emails, voicemails and direct messages on Facebook asking if I was okay, if my marriage was intact and if I needed to talk. Apparently, a moment of metaphysical theory or hand-of-G-d attribution was beyond what my social network on Facebook was prepared for from me. It was out of character and since it wasn't attached to a picture of my son swimming with a winter hat seemed too serious for what my friends had come to expect of me on Facebook.
This prompted a fairly detailed look into other people's postings and tweets and revealed the same levels of consistency across hundreds of users. While Facebook provides an environment of friendship, it also comes with social accountability. While Twitter provides you with followers you never knew or wanted, it also comes with increased independence to vent and relative anonymity as you explore another voice.
The beauty of all of this is that with a virtual soap box at our finger tips we can be who we want, where want and the lesson may be to become more selective who we entrust into our conversations. Apparently, they're listening.