Science & Tech / Web Culture

Does Facebook Really Create Stronger Bonds Than Twitter?

By: Chris O'Shea

We have a theory: You're either a Facebook person or a Twitter person. Very rarely are people into both sites. This is because for all their similarities, they do have tons of differences. Those variations can sway you heavily, and give some insight into why you like one over the other. For example, a new study says that Facebook builds stronger bonds between friends than Twitter. That might be enough to make some people Facebook fans, but is the study correct?

In our own completely unscientific way, we know that interaction on Facebook is typically higher than on Twitter, so that does seem to support this idea. We can post the same exact update to Facebook and Twitter and when we check back, the former gets way more action. A big part of that is the ability to "like" something on Facebook. It's very, very easy to "like" something and show you "care" about it. However, on Twitter, in order to show you care or like something, you actually have to say something. You can also retweet it, but even that takes more energy than the "like" (Sure, there's you have the ability to "favorite" a tweet, but seriously, who does that?). That edge — the increased interaction — on Facebook definitely makes it feel like Facebook builds better friendships.

Emilio Ferrara, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Indiana, is the man behind the that idea. He took a highly scientific approach (you know, because he's a scientist) with his paper, titled "A large-scale community structure analysis in Facebook." The report says that because Facebook creates so many layers of communities, it fosters stronger bonds. Ferrara and his team of researchers studied millions of Facebook users and their extended friends/communities. They also used something called a "Label Propagation Algorithm," which —  according to Mashable — is "a statistical formula that can collect and process information coming from large-scale networks such as Facebook."

In his report, Ferrara explains that Facebook's vastness, ironically enough, makes things closer. "The analysis of the community meta-network puts into evidence different mesoscopic features," states the report. "We discovered that the average degree of communities and their size put into evidence the tendency to self-organization of users into small or medium-size communities well-connected among each other. Our further analysis highlights that there exists a tendency to the creation of short paths (whose length mainly consists of two or three hops), that proficiently connect the majority of the communities existing in the network."

While that all sounds well and good, here's our problem with the idea that Facebook creates better friendships: The site is set-up to make it seem like that. Facebook is a place where people friend families and close current friends, and close past friends. Yes, some of your friends aren't close. But compare that to Twitter. People are much more likely to follow brands, companies, media entities, etc. than family members. So Facebook doesn't create close bonds, it merely reflects them. At least that's our theory, anyway. If you don't like it you can un-friend us.

[Pic via Wikimedia Commons]

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