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Why Facebook stinks at covering developing news

Facebook logoFacebook destroys Twitter in most metrics. But when it comes to breaking news, Twitter is the go-to social media outlet (demonstrated last week during the Paris attacks). Here’s a look why. Executive summary; it’s largely Facebook’s fault.

I help manage the social media sites for the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Yesterday around 5:30 p.m. (all times EST), a Texas trial court withdrew the execution order for Raphael Holiday, scheduled to die that evening for killing three children. Shortly thereafter I shared that good news with our Facebook followers (for a look at why KCADP opposes the death penalty, visit its website):


I wrote the post to attract maximum engagement on Facebook:

  • I started off with “BREAKING” in all caps, which has proven to be an attention getter (we use it sparingly though).
  • I linked to the story from another source (that is, not—Facebook seems to give posts a bigger reach when you’re not linking to your own website).
  • I framed the story in a positive manner to garner more likes and, hence, more views.

That post did really well by KCADP’s standards, reaching 867 people and picking up 17 likes, one comment, and one share as of 10:30 a.m. today.

But around 8:15 p.m., less than three hours later, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overruled the lower court and Holiday’s execution was back on. KCADP needed to share this development with its followers as well: both to inform them that the earlier post was dated, as well as ask them to contact Texas governor Greg Abbott seeking clemency for Holiday.

Our options for sharing this new development though were limited. And crappy.

  1. We could update the first post to change what had been a positive story (execution on hold) into a negative one (execution going forward). But by that time about 15 of our followers had already liked that post. It wouldn’t look right to have so many likes for what was now a negative story.
  2. We could publish a new post. But between coming so quickly after our earlier post and being a negative development and unlikely to garner likes, there was no way Facebook’s algorithm was going to give this negative update the same reach as the earlier, positive, but now dated post.
  3. Option 2, but also delete the original post. That first update, however, was getting so much engagement—and Facebook rewards engagement by giving you more reach on subsequent posts—that deleting it could hurt our ability to share our message with as many people as possible.
  4. We could pay to boost the second post’s reach. KCADP has a budget for social media promotion, but spending it to push a negative story that wasn’t going to get us much engagement isn’t a good use of our limited resources.

So I went with number two and posted again:


I also added a comment under the original post, directing people to the update. But it’s doubtful many Facebook users saw it.

As of 10:30 a.m. today, that second update has reached just 284 people—compared to 867 for the earlier post—and picked up one like and three shares. Texas killed Holiday at 9:30 p.m. last night, but as I drafted this blog post the following morning, KCADP’s original Facebook update about him being spared is still garnering likes and views.

Sure on Twitter, retweets may cause a dated tweet to pick up engagement after it’s no longer accurate. But because Twitter doesn’t rely on a proprietary algorithm to determine what a user sees, it’s much more likely that new developments will work their way into a user’s feed.

Until Facebook figures out a way to improve how outlets can share developing stories, Twitter’s going to trump it for news.

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