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October 2012:

Unfriendly Discourse

By Dennis Lane

October 3, 2012

Posted in: News

“I had to unfriend my aunt.”

The person who told me that wasn’t necessarily upset with her aunt. In fact, they used to be quite close. She simply could no longer take her aunt’s daily Facebook postings about President Obama. What had begun innocently enough as a statement of support for the incumbent president had escalated during the summer into dire warnings of a pending Armageddon if he wasn’t re-elected.

And they became more frequent, two or three political status updates a day. “It just got to be too much. I love her, but I had to unfriend her before I came to loathe her.”

You may have already guessed that this particular individual was supporting the president’s opponent, Mitt Romney, though she said that she hasn’t written any Facebook status messages about her support of him. “I try and keep my political beliefs private,” she told me.

In the days before Facebook, it was easier to manage opposing political views within families. First of all, that aunt was often living someplace like Duluth, Minn. Communication was limited to letters, with an occasional long distance phone call. In those days, very few people would waste precious long distance minutes railing about politics when there was other juicy family gossip to share.

On those rare times like the holidays, when families would gather in one place, the matriarch would often warn everyone in advance that there would be no politics at the dinner table. If someone breached this rule, a stern rebuke and evil eye from the head of the table was usually sufficient to put the matter to rest. Disagreements over sports were permissible, but politics were taboo. If and when politics came up after dinner, one could just leave the room if that person felt uncomfortable.

Sadly, with the advent of social media, that crazy aunt in Duluth is always there, seemingly whenever we log on. The matriarch’s powers are useless on Facebook. No one can see her evil eye.

I’m not sure what people like my friend’s aunt expect to accomplish by these type of postings, either. Do they think that sharing a sound bite or a quote that was possibly taken out context is going to sway their Facebook friends to vote differently?

To hear it from the people I’ve spoken with, that isn’t very likely. According to a recent article by Lynn Vavreck in The New York Times, only about 6% of voters are undecided about whom they will cast their presidential vote for. More than 90% of registered voters had made up their mind back in January, before the Republicans had even chosen their nominee, long before the Facebook postings started getting really nasty and well before the aunt was unfriended by her niece.

Six percent.

A Pew Research study determined that the average Facebook user has about 229 friends. The same study also found that only 6% of Facebook users log on to the site “several times a day” and only 9% log on every day.

So, do the math. If only 34 of that aunt’s friends are seeing her daily political diatribes and 94% of them have already made up their minds who they are voting for, only two have the potential of being swayed. The other 32 are either nodding in agreement or getting pissed off.

It hardly seems worth it. That aunt would be better off picking up the phone and calling her undecided friends or sending them a personal note. A private conversation is likely to be much more persuasive than a Facebook status update that they may never see anyway. Twenty-two percent of Facebook users check in less often than “every few weeks.”

And it just may keep her from being unfriended by a family member. According to the Pew study, 63% of Facebook users admitted to unfriending someone last year, up from 56% the year before.

I count myself among them.

Dennis Lane co-hosts “and then there’s that …” a biweekly local news podcast on hocomojo.com and blogs about stuff around here at wordbones.com.

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