Politics on social media: Do we know too much about our friends?

Are we revealing too much about ourselves with our political postings?
Charles Dharapak, AP

Because of Facebook, I discovered my aunt has three last names, my college buddy sees a certified cerologist about her bikini line and one of my male coworkers is a fan of Southern Belles: Louisville. In their profiles and “likes” and especially in the asides and links and photos they post, my friends reveal sides of themselves (and to degrees) they might not in person or mixed company. Social media makes the timid bold and the bold outrageous, though the audience is left to interpret the intentional vagueness, emoticons and space between 140 characters. Cryptic or not, our online selves often say what we really think.

Courage might be bolstered by an assumption that the audience is largely sympathetic. We’re friends and family. We’re on the same team. Even acquaintances feel familiar, as we can browse the drunk wedding reception pictures they’re tagged in and retweet ultrasounds of their unborn twins. But in the last year, as the presidential race has boiled hotter, so have the political viewpoints shared through social media.

Surprise! Just because you’re friends doesn’t mean you vote the same way or share the same values. I knew that, but awareness doesn’t soften my mother’s sincere and ebullient posts about politicians tied to policies I find appalling. Even if you’re not that close to someone, it can be jarring to learn you don’t see eye to eye through a heated comment punctuated with a frowny face. Overall, I think the opinion mosh pit is a good exercise in tolerance and a powerful reminder that the other side isn’t as far away as it feels (sometimes). Debate is vital. But in one case I was offended enough to unfriend. Because of Facebook, I knew too much.

In a poll on the site, most Weekly readers voted for, “I keep my politics off Facebook.” Almost tied for second were, “I’m sick of friends’ political posts” and, “I love the online debate.” The first category is my friend Amanda, who lists her political views as “coconut popsicles.” The second is my friend Sarah, who has hidden certain vitriolic voices from her feed until the election ends. The third is my enigmatic friend Gersh, who identifies as a libertarian and recently posted: “Who knew the mole was Clint Eastwood?” I can’t tell you everything Gersh believes based on that thought, and I’d say the same about a photo of him bobbing for apples in mesh gloves and a singlet. Social media has kicked open all kinds of private doors. What’s that saying about the devil you know?


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