Politics and Facebook: How to survive an election and keep your friends

It’s been two weeks since the Nov. 6 election, and I have nearly overcome my feelings of defriending the people who disagreed with me politically.

My husband, bold and stalwart, removed those with vastly opposing viewpoints weeks ago with little hesitation. I struggled with it throughout the last three months of the election season. Why? I kept asking myself. Is it more important to hold on to a diverse set of people with varying points of view than to check my Facebook feed and not want to throw up or punch something (or someone)?

Early in the election cycle one of my Facebook friends announced that she would defriend anyone who posted a political post. I thought that was a bit extreme, but it entered my consciousness that I should be careful not to post anything that would deeply offend others who didn’t hold my views. Granted, the vast majority of my social circle off and online are similar in their political leanings to me, so it would only be a handful of friends (one of them an uncle) who would likely disagree with anything I had to say regarding the presidential race, Senate and Congressional races, ballot measures and the like, but I found myself holding back all the same.

During the first presidential debate, I left Facebook and turned to Twitter, where my network is less personal and more political. I felt free to rant and rave as much as I needed to in 140 characters or less. I did less screaming at the television and more poking at my smart phone. I felt part of a community as I read others’ tweets that made me laugh and shared my horror. And I was having so much fun on Twitter, that I posted to Facebook for those of my friends with Twitter accounts to join me on that site to discuss the debate.

Soon after, a Facebook friend whom I personally do not know very well, posted in acerbic language that people should keep their political opinions to themselves since not everyone agreed with them. I was taken aback by this post, not just because of the vitriol this friend exuded, but because she wanted to shut down people’s expression. I was much more offended by this post than my other friend’s post about defriending those with political ramblings, though the sentiments of the two posts were the same they were stated much differently. It started to scar my idea of her, and I wondered if I should defriend her.

We have grown quite polarized as a country. We can be divided into red and blue so easily, but what we sometimes forget is that red and blue make purple and that purple is our shared humanity. Facebook and other social networks bring us together in ways not imagined even 10 years ago. Yet, it seems we are more hesitant to share our views with each other and to find common ground. We are happier in our bubbles of like-minded people and the media that cater to our philosophies.

There’s a Facebook page called “No One Wants to Hear About Your Politics, Especially on Facebook.” It has more than 3,000 likes, which is not significant when compared to the millions who have liked political pages belonging to candidates or lobby groups. Yet, Mashable reported that 47 percent of those who took its poll defriended someone because of the recent election. That poll received nearly 3,000 responses.

CNN reported a study that showed one in five people on social media admit to blocking, defriending or hiding someone because of a political post. An author of that study was quoted saying that the findings were not surprising, as social mores dictate not discussing sensitive topics, such as politics, with certain people in the real world.

“We know not to bring up politics around certain friends or family members. We try to avoid people who are constantly looking for an argument or trying to sell us on their pet ideas,” said Aaron Smith, a Pew research associate.

“Since blocking, unfriending, hiding people is the closest social analogue to those real-world examples, it’s not necessarily surprising to see people taking these steps in the virtual space.”

I refrained from political posts until the final days of the election. Before that, I made a point to comment and “like” others’ posts that I found interesting or agreed with. But I was not interested in placing my views on others. That’s what Twitter was for. Facebook was for making nice, for sharing photos of the kids and congratulating a high school friend on the birth of a baby. Yet, my true self felt stunted, and I finally posted a few articles to Facebook that lined up with my political philosophies, and on Election Night, I showed my hand and changed my profile picture to a campaign sign.

It was met with a little hostility from the vitriolic friend, but otherwise I received a couple of positive comments and about a dozen likes. Even so, the next morning, happy and relieved the election was finally over, I changed my profile picture to an innocuous photo of me and my family. I got a lot more comments and three times as many likes on that one.

And I feel ready to go back to the simple, carefree world of baby and wedding photos. Looks like I won’t be defriending anyone after all. At least not until next the election.