Would You Unfriend Someone on Facebook Over Politics?

As news feeds fill with political opinions -- and in many cases rants -- Facebook users are choosing to filter or remove their friends altogether

At this point in the election cycle, you may be so utterly saturated with the ugliness of politics that you can’t even bear to switch on the news. So you turn to the Internet for some mindless Facebook browsing, only to find a chunk of the vacation self-portraits and fancy food photos in your news feed replaced by scathing political commentary -- something potentially even more smug than vacation self-portraits and fancy food photos. (Full disclosure: I’m guilty of all of the above. Sorry!)

If you’re human, you’re probably more tolerant of the posts that align with your own political views. But would you go so far as to unfriend someone whose views don’t match up?

As a graduate of U.C. Berkeley and a resident of Los Angeles (not to mention a woman, a vegetarian, a Jew…), my feed is perhaps unsurprisingly filled with the posts of like-minded people who are quick to share an Obama campaign link, a look-what-the-Republicans-said-this-time story or otherwise preach to the choir. These voices are so abundant that I hardly notice them, or I register them with a casual “like.”

But it’s the posts by my right-leaning friends that I find so utterly jarring. I can’t say it doesn’t change my opinion of them -- in particular of those who mindlessly re-post ugly, false rhetoric without any critical thinking -- but I have yet to unfriend a single person for their views.

Have you?

If you have, you’re not alone. (Duh!) According to Forbes, 18 percent of respondents to a Pew survey said they have blocked or unfriended someone whose politically oriented posts were too frequent, strong or otherwise off-putting. And close to a third said they’d done it to a close personal friend, 21 percent to a coworker and 18 percent to a family member. (Harsh!)

Rather than go so far as to unsubscribe altogether, a larger section of Facebook users -- according to a totally unscientific poll of my own that I conducted this morning among my 500-ish friends -- say they would take the step of filtering posts from selective people, at least through November. One decidedly left-leaning friend -- gay, black, actor, Berkeley alum, fellow choir preacher -- said he’d “consider just unsubscribing rather than deleting altogether” people who were just “born into bad politics and just need more time around evolved thinkers.”

Thanks to a variety of tech tools, including the Social Fixer app, you can do that easily and effectively. The app allows you to filter out any posts you don’t like -- on topics like politics, religion, food, vacations, babies, what have you. You can download it here (http://socialfixer.com/). You can also filter political posts through Facebook’s own interface. Lifehacker has more detailed info on how to do that. 

So yes, there are means available to alter your feeds for a more pleasing political slant -- or for an altogether politics-free result. But the damage done from too hasty or too strident -- or just too dang many -- political posts may be irreversible in the opinions of your friends. So it serves all of us, regardless of our politics, to exercise at least a reasonable amount of restraint.

As a member of the media, I previously took the tack of avoiding political posts altogether for fear of alienating colleagues. I’ve eased up considerably on that policy (ahem) in this election cycle, and although I’ve never counted, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve lost some friends in the process.

The respondents in my unscientific Facebook poll today seemed overall tolerant of opinions other than their own, and not at all quick to unfriend people who express divergent views. Of course, anyone who already unfriended me was not among the respondents, so there’s that.

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Alesandra Dubin is a Los Angeles-based writer and the Chief Election News Blogger for iVillage. Follow her on Twitter:

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