As many have commented, at no point in recent social media memory has the difference between Facebook and Twitter been so apparent: over the past week, Twitter users have used the #Ferguson hashtag over 3.6 million times to raise awareness of protests against the police killing of unarmed Michael Brown in St. Louis, while in the same period Facebook has been dominated by videos of people performing the "Ice Bucket Challenge", where they dump ice water over their heads in exchange for avoiding making a charity donation. I spent more time on Twitter last week following #Ferguson, and so upon learning of the ice bucket meme and its popularity, it took a minute for me to untangle the logic of the challenge.
Since the point of the challenge is to raise money, the meme's creators probably intended the "ice" part of the challenge to be more unpleasant than donating money, and were likely surprised that dousing yourself with ice water is as popular as it is. Rather than paying money to avoid the ice water, participants endure the ice water in order to have a socially-sanctioned reason to take a video selfie (example above). And the design of Facebook (as opposed to Twitter) works precisely to make the video-selfie aspect of the challenge its viral draw, causing the challenge to become more of an awareness raiser than a direct way of soliciting the maximum donations (in the end, some still pay something, and the viral spread multiplies those small donations).
That's to say that Facebook is designed to make personal content-- like photos, which have driven site usage since Facebook began-- spread most rapidly. It does so by making the primary nodal interface on the site be between "friends" rather than between, say, news sources and individuals, or other sources of content and individuals. Algorithmic weight is given to popular individuals and their content, and that weight increases in turn. People and their images and updates are the primary content that is being served on Facebook. To work otherwise, Facebook's algorithmic weights would have to shift considerably (a change that is reportedly in the works, though it is unclear to what extent).
Because Facebook is so tightly defined by the transaction of personal content, it actually creates a content production issue. Unlike Twitter where one can happily share impersonal links to news (though Twitter is developing an algorithm to move closer to Facebook's more opaque, personal model), the Facebook user must be prompted to post personal content, and that content must be broadly socially appealing. This is why weddings and babies are the main types of content on Facebook at present, as weddings by definition are an occasion for social participation, and babies are similarly understood as sites of social involvement (so much so that a woman apparently faked her wedding in order to drive attention to #Ferguson). This is the reason why Facebook perpetually experiments with the "status update" question, to find questions that prompt the widest range of people to post a personal update or even better, visual content, which performs best in News Feed.
The Ice Bucket Storm
If the Ice Bucket Challenge had not been invented as a fundraising drive, it would make an excellent social media site engagement driver, because it solves the problem of getting people to post and share personal, visual content. It does so first by providing an excuse to make a video selfie-- in the age of ubiquitous cameras, the biggest hurdle to content production is self-consciousness, which can be overcome by being commanded by friends or philanthropy. Second, the ice bucket meme's format includes a prompt to friends to create their own video selfies (this is the human equivalent of when Facebook apps used to ask you to invite people to the app before you had used it). The Ice Bucket Challenge is thus a perfect viral storm that, while generating millions of page clicks and new content for Facebook and other sites, happens happily to also generate awareness and donations for a good cause.
As such one could imagine a philanthropically inclined Facebook feeling moved to make its own donation to the cause; or even for its own benefit, building products that contain some incentive to produce and share personal content a la the Ice Bucket Challenge. Slingshot, Facebook's Snapchatty app, does a version of this by forcing people to share content in order to see content.
Direct v. Algorithmic Curation
Meanwhile, on Twitter, the motivating factor for #Ferguson tweets is of a different order: concern with the injustice and overwhelming force shown in Ferguson by police against Mike Brown and unarmed residents. The news is urgent and the desire to share it is equally urgent and direct, along with the IRL responses of people organizing and sending supplies. Fortunately, a selfie isn't necessary to spread the news on Twitter; while on Facebook, due to algorithmic curation, it may be. But just the same, this viral sharing benefits Twitter insofar as it drives content and usage. As such one could imagine Twitter, like one could imagine Facebook for ALS, acknowledging the cause with a financial contribution. Because if paying producers for content is no longer on the table, perhaps the next ethical step will be to pay the meme's original creators (or their causes) for the engagement they drive.