Mixing Politics and Facebook ([click] De-friend)

Oct 11, 2013

Credit WKNO Art Department


It's sooo tempting... This article I’m reading, right now... About the government shutdown…It represents everything that’s in my brain. And with a single click, everyone I’m friends with -- and even a bunch of people I’m not -- will know where I stand. They’re gonna read this, and they’ll see the light. And peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars…

And that, my fellow Facebook users, is how all epic social media battles begin.

If you’ve been on the Internet lately, you’ve probably found yourself bombarded with political posts. If it’s a Jon Stewart video, you can bet the sharer is a Democrat. And if it’s something about Barack Obama’s birth certificate (and, seriously, is that still a thing?) well, you know it’s probably from one of your relatives.

Around the last election, one of my own Facebook friends, Kelly Schonmann, who hails from St. Petersburg, Florida, fell mysteriously silent. No more poignant cries for truth, justice and the American way.

I called her to find out if she was still alive. She was. Only part of her had died.

“You know, Facebook has become either the joy or bane of people’s existence,” she told me. “It got pretty nasty, to the point where I had family members threatening to disown me.” 

Even after she stopped posting provocative things on her Facebook wall, some people would track down the political comments she left on other political forums.

“I mean, I think they were actively looking to find things to start arguments about,” she said.

So she deleted everything political from her social page and started a new, top-secret page, where she could read or say whatever she wanted without judgment. Shielding her loved ones from her political interests, she says, has made everyone happier.

“I’ve seen a lot of people go, ‘I don’t speak to my sister, I’m not gonna talk to my brother. My father, he’s a “This and That” and therefore I’m never going to speak to him again. And you know what? It’s not worth it. Because that does not need to be the sole existence of the family. It’s not your sole conversation when you see them.”

Ultimately, Kelly’s concern about offending others – or having others offend her – is a question of etiquette. Think of Facebook as a giant dinner party where every conversation is public and you can join in at any time.

Helping people better navigate their way through this dinner party is Daniel Post Senning. He's the great, great grandson of Emily Post, who wrote the book on social etiquette. At the Emily Post Institute in Vermont, Senning and his family often discuss the biggest faux pas in social media.

“Definitely, one of the things we hear about at the Institute all the time is the danger of the overshare,” Senning says. “One of the types of overshare is information that gets people unfriending is information that is just too personal, or if it’s too strident. When someone is expressing their political views and they’re doing it in a way that doesn’t show respect or consideration for the other side of the debate, that can really turn people off.”

Senning says that being a bad steward of your online image can have social and even financial consequences.

“The digital profile that accrues around all of us is part of all of our personal brand now," Senning says. "It’s part of how people assess whether or not they want to do business with us, whether they want to hire us. You don’t want to be behaving in a way that’s putting distance between you and other people you’re trying to stay connected to through these mediums by using them badly.”

"One of the most important things you can often do to build a relationship or build a good conversation is to listen well," says Daniel Post Senning of the Emily Post Institute.

  Senning realizes that talking politics is part of normal social discourse. But he encourages us to think of our Facebook posts in terms of building relationships.

“One of the most important things you can often do to build a relationship or build a good conversation is to listen well,” he says. “And I would say the same is true in political discourse, a willingness to really listen to the other side, and not with an intent of changing minds, but with the intent of building bridges, building relationships and building understanding. It’s a tough task. It can be difficult, but the rewards really can be great.”

So as the government crumbles around us, democracy burns, and the doomsday clock ticks off its final seconds, we can at least go down with decorum. Give that next political post a little shot of Emily Post.