Unfriending, blocking and ignoring: Political spats on Facebook affect real-life relationships with family, friends, colleagues and neighbors as the 2012 Election Day battle between Obama and Romney draws near.
12:25PM EDT October 13. 2012 - Jason Perlow thought it was just a spirited debate.
A friend posted some negative information about presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Facebook, and Perlow, who considers himself a moderate, pointed out what he saw as flaws in that commentary.
That online disagreement escalated into an offline disintegration of their more-than-10-year friendship.
"He got really angry with me," says Perlow, 43. "He defriended me on Facebook and told me not to send him any more e-mails. He also defriended my wife, who had nothing to do with it."
Most people know the social dangers of discussing politics at family gatherings, cocktail parties and the workplace. But the rise of Facebook brings about a tempting -- and treacherous -- territory to engage in such commentary.
It takes just a few posts to inadvertently damage a friendship, put a rift in family relations, alienate a once-friendly neighbor or infurIate a colleague. ...
... Yet as divisive as those Facebook comments can be, they can have an influence.
One in six social network users say they've changed their views about a political issue after discussing it or reading posts about it on a social networking site, according to a Pew Research Center survey fielded in January and February. ...
I have never defriended anyone over politics but I have moved some people into friend groups where I can avoid them more easily when I wish. I unfollowed six people on twitter in recent months because of their incessant divisive political tweets, especially during the primary debates. The majority have been pastors or academics, including one person who has published several books and has a wide following. Her occasional barrage of tweets, especially during primary campaigns, were so obnoxious that I am no longer prepared to hear much of what she has to say about anything else. From retweets by others this fall I see little has changed.
I’m particularly puzzled by the number of religious leaders who routinely go to excess in social media. (And let’s face it, most of us who post regularly occasionally step across a line.) Most pastors I have known have been very judicious about making political remarks in face-to-face community. They would never say things from the pulpit or at a public gathering that they say in social media. Bruce Reyes-Chow wrote a post recently, An Open Letter to Pastors About the Dangers of Using Social Media. One of the dangers he lists is the “Here I can be the real me” mindset. He writes:
This is probably the most difficult aspect of online life to manage for a pastor. I understand the need for a place to vent, but as a general rule I advise you to never to vent online and when unsure, default to, “If you can’t say it out loud and in public, don’t say it online.” because you just never knows who is tracking what, who taking screenshots for future use or who will eventually see what is said. Again, I do see how safe online space can be beneficial, but you risk much when intentionally compartmentalizing yourself into two or more personas. I choose to believe that most thoughtful folks in a church, even if they saw some venting, would be able to understand. But what I would not want is for people to see your online life and experience a completely different person. For generations we pastors have been told to live two separate lives, church pastor and real person, and this has only lead to trouble. We feel confined, churches feel lied to and our unhealthy and destructive behaviors can be hidden from view. Social media has the capability to draw us into the same kinds of unhealthy dualities that can lead to broken relationships, congregational disillusionment and pastoral misconduct, so we must be even more diligent in how we live online.
Bruce’s post help clarify for me why I might be seeing so many pastors behave this way. But there is more here. Bruce is writing about pastors but I think his wisdom applies to anyone who wants to live a truly authentic life.