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Pew Finds Online Friends Ignore Your Politics

Tuning out your friends was never easier than with social media.

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I’ve long been a fan of the adage “Opinions are like a**holes. Everybody has one, but nobody else wants to hear it.” For me, this is nowhere more true than in the social media world, where friends and acquaintances alike broadcast 140-character sound bites about their cause du jour. I’m generally averse to social platforms’ unremitting layout updates, but when my more vocal extremist friends flood my newsfeed with dogmatic posts, I’m eternally grateful that Facebook now lets me: show “Only Important” updates from Greg, “Unsubscribe from status updates by Greg,” “Unsubscribe from Greg,” or Unfriend Greg entirely. With four different levels of shunning to choose from, I can gradually ramp up sanctions before implementing a full-out information embargo.

(Maybe this’ll get Greg’s attention. Are You Listening, Greg?!?!)

Anyway, I’m not the only one who gets tired of social media sites being used as political platforms. Sure, we all post our beliefs from time to time. And a measured degree of political posting might even be good, helping you vent your feelings, reap the reassurance of confirmation bias, and express more fully your overall personality. But I’ve that political postings work just like bumper stickers in my own Personality Triangulation Theory, wherein I triangulate your entire character solely by the messages you make public. The more bumper stickers (or their digital cousins) you display, the more conveniently I can pigeonhole you. This saves me all kinds of time that I’d otherwise spend getting to know you. Thanks at least for being so considerate.

I know my sarcasm isn’t going to dissuade you from promoting your causes online. If you’re going to do it, you’ll do it–and the more polarized your opinion, the likelier you are to share it with the internet. But when you do show your leanings online, just know that your friends are probably ignoring you. These are the findings of Social networking sites and politics, a new study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Here are the highlights, quoted directly from the study:

  • Friends disagree with friends about political issues and usually let their disagreements pass without comment. Among the SNS users whose friends post political content, 25% always agree or mostly agree with their friends’ political postings; 73% of these SNS users “only sometimes” agree or never agree with their friends’ political postings. When they disagree with others’ posts, 66% of these SNS users say they usually ignore the posts; 28% said they usually respond with comments or posts of their own; and 5% said it depends on the circumstances.
  • Users can be surprised to learn the political leanings of their friends. Some 38% of SNS users have discovered through a friend’s posts that his/her political beliefs were different than the user thought they were.
  • The study also finds that “the most active and engaged” political participants online come from either extreme of the political spectrum. (No surprise here, if you ask me.) “[Y]et their experiences around political material on SNS are quite similar,” adds the study. Users holding extreme viewpoints are also, “often the most likely to have acted for and against others on SNS,” and are more likely to be surprised when they learn their friends’ true political leanings.

    So keep this in mind next time you want to convince the internet of the importance of Anarcho-Feminist-Liberal-Republicans’ Second Amendment rights. And if you see Greg at your next meeting, tell him I don’t want to hear it. I hope he’s not surprised.

    Information quoted from the Pew Internet and American Life Project: Social networking sites and politics. Lee Rainie and Aaron Smith, 12 March 2012. Photo Cred: I Can Has Cheezburger.

    Pew Finds Online Friends Ignore Your Politics
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      I still think a “dislike” button on Facebook would be a welcome addition.

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