The flawed French Facebook & Twitter experiment - social media is a conversation, not a newswire

 by Martin Belam, 26 January 2010

This week five French journalists are undertaking a curious experiment, and using Facebook and Twitter as their only news sources. I say curious, not because the question they are trying to answer isn't interesting, but because the constraints they are applying to the experiment seem so artificial.

And I should add straight away that my information about how they are actually carrying out the experiment has only been gleaned second-hand from some selective quotes in slightly conflicting newspaper articles, so I can't entirely vouch for the accuracy of it all.

The curious restriction is the statement that they are not able to 'surf the web'. At least one of the journalists seems to be completely forbidden from visiting any sites other than Facebook or Twitter - thus rendering the sharing of links on those services pointless, and the situation totally artificial.

I'm also not clear whether they are only using their own Twitter and Facebook networks to follow the news, or whether they are simply going to sit on the front-page of Twitter, squint at mysterious hashtags, and then declare them unhelpful.

But let's rephrase the experiment to what it actually is:

Five French journalists are going to lock themselves in a hut, and only rely on conversations for their news.

And you know what? If you did that in real life, I think the answer would be straightforward.

Undoubtedly your deep knowledge of fiscal policy would diminish over time, and you wouldn't get to read Charlie Brooker, Melanie Phillips or other comedy writers on a regular basis. And if you were just hanging around in a big public space eavesdropping on strangers - as these journalists appear to be doing - you'd probably not pick up a lot of useful information.

But if you were just having conversations with your friends, I think you'd still get the big news.

Think about it. If you have a busy day at work and don't get a glimpse of the paper or catch any TV or radio, and you come home and casually ask your partner "Any news?", they don't faithfully relay the whole 6 o'clock news bulletin to you.

But they'd probably tell you about really major stories like the Haiti earthquake, and they'd tell you any stories they'd heard that touched on the intersection of your interests.

Because that is what a conversation between friends is.

Telling stories about the people you know, the things you have done, and the things you have heard that will interest you both. And social media is a conversation, not a newswire service.

I'm not sure that you need to lock yourself in a remote hut to understand that.


I do use Twitter, Facebook, Forums like the Warrior Forum, etc for getting lots of info for my articles, adding some unique content to PLR e-books, etc. I love to zoom in on conversations for content. To be honest, I rarely watch the news...too much negativity. Thanks for the article Martin. I enjoyed it.

I don’t see how this can be a success. When we read a newspaper or bulletin we expect the journalists to do thorough research, as much as possible given the time frame, so that they can present us with the “news”. I fail to see how some rambling between friends can have any news value. I agree with you that the social media is a conversational and a meeting-place for friends not a place to gather news on the current events.

I think what isn't clear Jerin is whether they are using Facebook & Twitter as their only sources to "make" the news, or whether they are trying to see if they "receive" the news. For the latter I think social media conversations are fine - the former is a whole different situation.

One thing I know happens when you stop reading the papers and listening to the news is that people you know are always telling you all the big bad news.

I agree you might not get deep level information but it would be a terrible way to live if you only had Twitter to rely on

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