Talking politics on Facebook

A few years ago, my publisher told me a conversation he had with a neighbor who didn’t read the newspaper. He asked where she got her news. She responded, “Facebook.”

That answer baffled him because he wasn’t active on the social networks, but I got it. Friend the right friends, like the right pages or follow the right people on Twitter and you can find out just about everything that’s going on in the world.

Last night, Fox 8 did a piece on the dangers of using social media to discuss politics. The premise of the report was that it’s a terrible idea to talk politics on Facebook. “You’re not going to change someone’s political beliefs through a Facebook post,” said Scott Dickson with Dickson Interactive, a website and social networking consultant company, in Winston-Salem…. “If you interact with the public at all then it’s my opinion just keep quiet about these kinds of things let your vote be your voice,” said Dickson.

Even though the headline of the piece says “experts,” plural, its sole source is Scott, who is my friend. And, for my money, he’s wrong. (I’m a little surprised that Fox 8 didn’t get another social media expert to counter Scott’s ideas rather than simply letting them stand. After all, in practice, Fox 8 doesn’t agree with them, as it posts links to political stories and permits a free-for-all in the comments.)

One of the wonders of Facebook and Twitter is that you can follow who you want, read the discussions you want and participate in the discussions you want. I have friends who do nothing but lurk. I have others who post about their kids. Some who post Bible verses. And others who post politics. Sometimes the comments get a little personal, but not that often.

I admit that I’m biased. I post about politics. It’s a topic that interests me. I like to read the links that others post because I usually learn something. For instance, the first places I’ve seen the fact-checking articles about the Republican and Democratic speeches at the conventions were on Facebook and Twitter. Those informed my opinions about what was said in Tampa and Charlotte.

I’m also biased because I don’t like others putting rules on how social media “should” be used. Facebook and Twitter give us enough rules. So, when Scott says that social media sites are for people who want to have fun with friends, I must respectfully disagree. I have fun with friends and we talk about all kinds of things. But eliminating politics from the discussion? Well, Arab Spring, anyone?

Update: Scott responds to this post in the comments. He also points out the WFMY did a similar story a day later. It, too, is a one source story. It’s recommendation, however, is one that is closer to where I am.

7 thoughts on “Talking politics on Facebook

  1. great thoughts. as someone who posts WAAAAAY too much political stuff on Facebook, I appreciate your insight on the matter :) I am excited about the political season. FB is, frequently, the only way i have to get insight or share with those who oppose my political views. Writing on a “wall” somehow liberates folks to say things they may not say in person, so i get to read, i think, a lot more ideas than I would hear in person.

  2. Surprised also at Fox8. I totally agree with you, John. Facebook can and will influence this election like never before. Social networking media are 2012’s best hope I think in countering voters “dumbing down” in their own comfort zones, with like minds only. I’m not buying “It doesn’t matter.” I expect hundreds of 1000s, even a million or more, minds could change.

  3. Hi John,

    The interview lasted a good 15 minutes, but they had to edit it down to 1:30.

    First off, let me say that I did cringe quite a bit when they used the word “expert.” There’s no such thing as a social media expert, or a ninja, wizard or guru. But, I have been slugging it out in the social space 24/7 coming up on 5 years now. So, I believe that gives me license to express my opinion on it, especially since I’m seeing so much hatred, intolerance and unproductive political conversations on social media and particularly, on Facebook. It bothers me that people can’t seem to understand that it’s OK to disagree.

    Let’s think about it from a professional perspective. Let’s say I sell cars for a big dealership. Let’s just say. If I’m smart, I want all my Facebook friends and their friends and their friends….to come by cars from me. If I decide to go off on an emotionally-charged, political tirade on Facebook, I run the risk of alienating my friends who do not agree with me. They may think of me differently, both personally AND professionally and decide they don’t want to do business with me. So, at that point, I’ve damaged my employer’s reputation and I’ve lost money that I would use to put food on the table. It’s not worth the risk.

    I’m not trying to tell people how they should use Facebook. I’m trying to get folks to think about the possible repercussions of what they post. It’s nasty out there. People are getting un-friended. I know people who have been friends for 20 years, but they’re not speaking now because they had it out on Facebook over a political issue. I know this because I watched it all go down…right here in front of my computer screen.

    Granted, this just covers one point of my blog post. But, I think it could be the most important one. Granted, this just covers one point of my blog post. But, I think it could be the most important one. I stand by my post.

    I hope you plan to follow-up on WFMY’s story they ran on the day after WGHP ran theirs. This, I find wildly amusing.

    Finally, I have heard through the grapevine that you are notorious for posting cat memes and pictures of dogs smoking cigarettes on FB. (-;

    I miss our conversations. I hope you and your family are doing well, sir.

    Thanks!
    Scott D.

    • Thanks, Scott. There was several paragraphs that were repeated word-for-word in your response. I took the liberty of cutting them so that it would read more naturally. I have saved them, however, if I inadvertently cuts something that I shouldn’t have.

  4. Some sociologists have studied this topic using twitter data:

    http://bst.sagepub.com/content/30/5/316.short

    Abstract

    The principle of homophily says that people associate with other groups of people who are mostly like themselves. Many online communities are structured around groups of socially similar individuals. On Twitter, however, people are exposed to multiple, diverse points of view through the public timeline. The authors captured 30,000 tweets about the shooting of George Tiller, a late-term abortion doctor, and the subsequent conversations among pro-life and pro-choice advocates. They found that replies between like-minded individuals strengthen group identity, whereas replies between different-minded individuals reinforce in-group and out-group affiliation. Their results show that people are exposed to broader viewpoints than they were before but are limited in their ability to engage in meaningful discussion. They conclude with implications for different kinds of social participation on Twitter more generally.

  5. I don’t know, Marc. My mass comm classes at both places spend a decent amount of time on social media…that’s where the students gather. I know UNC has a specific class on it. I don’t know about Elon.

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