Politics appears to be the great divider, ending many a Facebook friendship.
Politics, sex, religion, money, and parenting styles are topics best avoided in polite conversation, as the mere utterance of an opposing view can drive some people to become incensed – especially in regards to politics one study finds.
Differences in politics can be a friendship ender.
According to research from the Georgia Institute of Technology, if Facebook users sense the majority of their friends have differing political views than their own, they will limit the use of the social media platform.
For those who opt to stay logged on and share political insights, most will tend to engage only within their own political sphere of friends, ignoring those on the opposing side. In time, that less than politically compatible friend may find themselves unfriended as a result.
Or, and I’ve seen this on many occasions, nasty politically-heated banter is posted back-and-forth on the page of a central friend between two people who may not even know one another. Ultimately, the vitriolic content is deleted and one or both of the debaters are then booted from the Facebook friend-zone.
Catherine Grevet, a Georgia Tech Ph.D. student who led the study, says in Science Daily:
“People are mainly friends with those who share similar values and interests. They tend to interact with them the most, a phenomenon called homophily. But that means they rarely interact with the few friends with differing opinions. As a result, they aren’t exposed to opposing viewpoints.”
The study surveyed more than 100 politically active Facebook users. The majority of participants were politically liberal females under 40.
The timing of the survey is important as it was conducted in the spring of 2013 amid debates about budgets cuts, gay marriage, and gun control regulations.
More than 70 percent of respondents said they didn’t talk about politics with their online friends with different opinions. When they saw something they didn’t agree with, 60 percent said they ignored it and made a point not to comment. When they did engage, sometimes it made the person question the relationship and ultimately they disassociated from the friend.
The Western Courier says more than 1.3 billion people log onto Facebook every month – 700 million of whom have the app installed on their mobile devices. But as the rate of using technology for social communication increases, many speculate the negative impact social media sites have on the quality of building and maintaining relationships.
Ideally, the global social media site could bridge the polarized political divide, as Facebook is littered with politically themed pages – allowing for an open forum of discussion.
As for interpersonal discussions between friends, the Georgia Institute of Technology researchers suggest a few design changes could allow the social media platform to bridge their political differences. By displaying shared interests between would-be friends during their politically-sensitive conversations, Facebook could help diffuse possible arguments and alleviate tension.
[Image: Oli Dunkley]