ORLANDO, Fla. (MCT) — Henrich Ellison is moments away from “unfriending” his cousin on Facebook.
Ellison, a 32-year-old telemarketer from Orlando, is a Democrat, and his cousin is a Republican. Though he doesn’t mind the party differences, he’s grown tired of the negative images and comments his cousin posts about President Barack Obama and the party platform.
“I never really share my political views on Facebook, and I don’t mind that she shares hers, but now she’s in high gear, and (the posts) are getting uglier,” Ellison said. “I think I’ve tolerated it for as long as I can.”
A tidal wave of political content is flooding Facebook users’ news feeds as Election Day approaches, and many users are scrambling for ways to navigate through it. Should users block or unfriend a family member, co-worker or close friend and risk triggering an uncomfortable conversation? Or is there a less-stressful substitute?
The Social Networking Sites and Politics survey released in March by the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows the majority of social media users — 82 percent — do not disconnect from friends with different political views.
But one in five social media users blocks, unfriends or hides the political content posted by others who post too frequently, differ in political views, argue with the user or others, or worry the posts could offend others on their news feeds, the survey shows.
Orlando social media strategist Mark Krupinski said “you can’t avoid all the (political) noise without taking some sort of action.”
His reaction has been to dump some of them — at least temporarily.
“There are users I don’t share useful information to begin with, and now they’re getting in my face with opinions I don’t need. I just unfriend them,” he said. “After the election is over and the noise has died down a bit, I might add some of them back.”
Krupinski said Facebook is not much different from face-to-face interactions people have with friends over political issues.
“We already tend to gravitate toward like-minded individuals, but we have friends who are on the fringe,” he said. “We tune those folks out during elections and connect afterward.”
But Rick Brunson, a journalism professor at the University of Central Florida, strongly disagrees with the practice of blocking a friend on Facebook over politics because it’s “antithetical to the spirit of social media and free speech.”
“I find (the political posts) mildly irritating, but I tolerate them. I may read the posts or I may not, and then I move on,” Brunson said. “That’s part of the price you pay for stepping into a social media platform.”
Brunson, who considers himself a “free speech absolutist,” said social media are “all about expressing your opinion.”
Facebook users have been sharing endless Internet images mocking the presidential candidates. Some poked fun at Clint Eastwood’s empty-chair speech from the Republican National Convention.
Another popular image making the rounds on Facebook switches the silhouettes in the Democratic National Convention logo with something else, such as zombies.
Some Facebook users consider the posts comical, but others find them insulting.
Ellison said some of the images and messages his cousin posts could be misinterpreted as racist and homophobic.
“I know she’s not racist or homophobic, but I’m afraid that other friends will see that and think I approve,” he said.
Social media strategist Dawn Jensen said users can always filter Facebook settings if they choose to block certain friends. They also can hide a post or delete a friend from the account in extreme cases.
Still, Jensen suggests a friendlier approach for dealing with a prickly political issue on Facebook.
“If someone is uncomfortable with a political comment or post from a friend, they should let them know and take the conversation off Facebook, discuss it by email, over the phone or in person,” Jensen said. “It’s really important to be honest and upfront.”