This post, by Michelle Pekarsky, originally appeared on the Fox 4 News site on 10/11/12, during the lead-up to the election. As political issues such as gun control and the economy continue to dominate the national consciousness, it’s still a very timely piece and one that authors concerned about platform-building should find particularly interesting.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — (CNN) Steve Reeder says it’s no secret among his Facebook friends: He’s a Republican.
But after he began posting news articles and political cartoons on his page that reflect his support for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, his friend count began falling off. Today, it’s down by several dozen.
“One day, they are there. The next day, they just disappear,” said Reeder, 53, of Roswell, Georgia. “Most (people) don’t say anything to me about it. So I just say ‘good riddance.’”
It’s a story that’s been playing out on Facebook and Twitter with growing frequency among friends, family members, colleagues and acquaintances as an already contentious presidential campaign between Romney and President Barack Obama enters its final, frenzied weeks. Your close friends may share your political views, but that eccentric uncle, former co-worker or high school classmate may not.
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.
“Since blocking, unfriending, hiding people is the closest social analogue to those real-world examples, it’s not necessarily surprising to see people taking these steps in the virtual space.”
Muting the rhetoric
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.
“This is a pretty mercurial campaign on both sides. People on both sides tend to get heated pretty fast,” said Stevens, 37, of Ruidoso, New Mexico. As a result, he said, “there are way too many people on Twitter who are a little scary.”
Stevens tweets under the pseudonym @pettybooshwah. He doesn’t post pictures of himself, nor does he release details about his whereabouts.
But he’s not shying away from political debate.
“When you don’t follow people with the opposing viewpoint, Facebook and Twitter can become an echo chamber where everybody agrees,” Stevens said.
‘Facebook is not a democracy’