Political rants on Facebook are testing social media friendships and leading to a rash of pre-election "unfriendings," new research suggests.
"Political punditry has become so prevalent – and sometimes so mean – that people are being 'unfriended' until the election is over," said Joseph Burns, a professor of Communication at Southeastern Louisiana University who conducted the research. "I wondered why some of my Facebook friends have become so politically vocal for one side or the other. So I decided to ask them."
Burns' curiosity led him to ask 24 of his friends, half Democrats and half Republicans, about their political postings on social networks. Many of Burns' friends said they were making political postings because they were pointing out fallacies, fixing media wrongs and sharing their personal opinion of the "truth." Burns also said that more half of the respondents said they believed that their postings would have an effect in changing the votes of others.
"My friends who believed they were having an effect said they hoped to encourage people to follow their lead," Burns said. "A number generally agreed with one friend’s statement that 'You can sway people’s voting decisions based on good, factual discussions.' They wanted to bring to the table an angle that others may not have considered or to 'strike a chord with those who may not agree but are open to interesting ideas.'"
That, however, turned out not to be the case. Instead, many of the respondents began to either argue to defend their position. “Politics is like religion … deeply held by those who believe,” Burns explained.
Other respondents simply unfriended political posters. Overall, Burns found that most respondents unfriended political posters on social networks because they did not want to fight about their posts and for the most part, his friends did not like the name- calling and chances for misunderstanding that social media presented with political postings and responses.
Burns also found that a majority of the respondents said they planned to stop posting about politics after the election.