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New details on our political unfriending habits

Filed by KOSU News in Public Insight Network.
October 6, 2012

Facebook on an iPhone

(Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP | Getty)

Facebook just announced it has 1 billion active monthly users around the globe. Chances are most of them were not posting about Wednesday night’s presidential debate in Denver, but for users in the U.S., it sure seemed like seemed like they were. Politics is ubiquitous on social networks right now and a new report suggests how much that bugs us.

Seventy-five percent of Americans who use social networks like Facebook say their friends post political statements online, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Eighteen percent of social network users have gotten so fed up they’ve blocked, unfriended or hidden some of those friends because of such postings.

The survey, released Monday, was conducted in January and February, in the middle of the Republican nomination battle, but before the partisan rhetoric reached fever pitch. Interestingly, self-identified liberals were much more likely to take these steps than conservatives, though I wonder if that is still the case in this general election environment.

According to Pew, most of the people who have shunned social media relationships over politics have blocked or unfriended people they consider “distant friends or acquaintances.” But a third of that group admits to cutting ties with a close friend or even a family member. Marilyn Matheny, a Public Insight Network source from Minneapolis, is among them:

“My brother and I have had email and Facebook communications that have been very hurtful. He attacks me and any of my friends and relatives who have opinions that he disagrees with. He feels it is his job to counter wrong headed ideas. However his comments sometimes become insulting and demeaning.

“I have asked him to stick to the issues and avoid getting nasty, but he doesn’t, so I have blocked him on Facebook and do not respond to the many emails he sends to me.”

The interactions that lead to social shunning take many forms. Thursday’s New York Times briefly profiles a man who lost his aunt’s friendship on Facebook because of his constant fact-checking of other people’s political posts. Online political battles are heavily represented in the map full of stories we published recently from people in the Public Insight Network whose relationships have been affected by politics.

If you’re getting tired of political posts, Facebook does allow some degree of customization to help avoid certain friends’ posts, but Whitson Gordon at Lifehacker offers a more comprehensive option involving a browser plug-in called Social Fixer.


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