Thursday, October 14, 2010

Politics and Religion on Facebook

"In what may be the first comprehensive study of its kind, a University of Colorado Denver Business School student has revealed the top reasons for Facebook unfriending, who is unfriended and how they react to being unfriended," I read in Science Daily, following a friend's tweet about it. 
"After surveying more than 1,500 Facebook users on Twitter, [PhD candidate Christopher] Sibona found the number-one reason for unfriending is frequent, unimportant posts.

'The 100th post about your favorite band is no longer interesting,' he said.

"The second reason was posting about polarizing topics like religion and politics.

"'They say not to talk about religion or politics at office parties and the same thing is true online,' [said Sibona].

"Inappropriate posts, such as crude or racist comments, were the third reason for being unfriended."
>> See Top Reasons for Facebook Unfriending

Not surprising findings, are they? I have yet to unfriend anyone, but I'm uncertain if others have unfriended me. I've been known to block certain people's updates from appearing in my Facebook stream (at least for a time, in hopes that their latest distasteful rant or enthusiasm will ebb). Certainly I hide all the game updates.

It's those politics postings that are most likely to get under my skin; I don't want to hear about your politics. On the whole I'm much more interested in religion (of any flavor), though I may cringe on occasion. So, I suppose, I'm taking offense at your politics and expecting you to be OK with my religion. Hardly sounds fair, does it?

If only politics weren't such a battle. So much blood and ink poured out over causes that I tend to think matter little. But I have at least a few atheist and agnostic friends that would say the same about religion. I know many people who are careful to avoid politics and/or religion discussions in most contexts, regardless of their feelings on such matters. Others seem to write only about one of those topics or the other. It's their beat.

I'm not sure who I write for, at least in this social media environment. I tend to be haphazard instead of deliberate about such things. But as I am a professional religious person - I've been working for Christian organizations since the mid-90s - it turns out that a good 80% or more of my almost 500 Facebook friends are ministry contacts and tend to be devout evangelical Christians. Some are pretty rigid in their thinking; others, more flexible. All of them - as far as I know - are human.

I didn't set out to use Facebook as a way to stay in touch with business colleagues but I haven't stopped it from happening. The same is true of my (smaller number of) Twitter followers and I think of my blog readers, as well. This means the things that I do (or in which I am implicated) online may have a fairly direct impact on how my professional colleagues see me, and sometimes that is uncomfortable, especially since other contacts in each environment are using the same tools in ways that are purely personal. 

In posting on Facebook or similar contexts I guess we just have to ask: For whom are we writing? Whom will we lose or offend, and is that a price we're willing to pay?

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