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Lotsa thin skin out there: polarizing political environment tests relationships on social media

UPDATE: In wonderful social media news, I’ve been nominated for the Women’s Media Center’s Social Media Award

Cast your vote today for one of nineteen incredible bloggers, social media gurus, activists, and new media makers for gender justice! Public voting for the award opened this morning and will continue until October 29. The winner will be honored at the Women’s Media Awards on November 13 in New York City.

I read this piece and was fascinated by the apparent agita out there over what people see/respond to on social media when it comes to discussing politics. (CNN):

Nearly one-fifth of people admit to blocking, unfriending or hiding someone on social media over political postings, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. The biggest gripes: The offending person posted too often about politics, disagreed with others’ updates, or bothered mutual friends with partisan political postings.

“In the real world, we navigate these issues all the time. 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.

As a political blogger, if you friend or follow me, surely you know I’m going to post political news articles and link to content I find interesting (and not always items I agree with). I’m a prolific social media maven — I post with more regularity on Twitter and Facebook than on this blog — so I assume those who are friends with me or follow me on Twitter are there because they want to know what I think. I have plenty of people out there who don’t agree who read and comment politely, if vigorously, but it sounds like there’s a level of rudeness and lack of any kind of etiquette out there that is generating a lot of de-friending and blocking.

It’s the hateful tone of the political conversation that is particularly disturbing to Luis Stevens, who has temporarily muted the Twitter voices of roughly 150 people and blocked more than 400 others until after the November 6 election.

More than one person has threatened to show up on Stevens’ doorstep after he disagreed with them on Twitter. A few more have called him names. And at least one stepped across a political “red line,” endorsing a pundit that Stevens finds offensive.

W.T.F? It sounds like a lot of people act as if they are victims of seeing political posts on their feeds as if they have no control over it. It also seems as though most of the agita comes from people users know in the real world getting riled up over the offline friend’s political posts. My guess is that apolitical FB friends probably tire of it and find out more than they want to know about the politics of that family member or friend, particularly in an election cycle as polarizing as this one is.

Note to the folks overwhelmed by the political chatter from online friends — if you don’t care to see the content (or the discussion) for some reason, simply Hide a Friend’s Posts From Your News Feed.” It’s that simple.

Unlike Luis Stevens above, I can count on two hands the total number of FB friends and Twitter users I’ve blocked over the years and it was less due to any political disagreement than incessant, bordering-on-insane personal attacks. I certainly don’t have to subject myself to that on my own Wall or Twitter feed. But it is indicative that the people who do engage me on social media tend to be civil and less thin-skinned about discussing politics. However, I also notice that most of the people who comment are not close family or friends I know offline. My personal and political worlds co-mingle on social media accounts, so I guess it’s kind of odd that there’s nearly zero friction on that front.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding