Those Annoying Political Posts on Facebook Aren’t Going Away

What's the proper etiquette for politics in the social media age?

For many adults, this is the first Facebook Presidential election. This means that many of us and our Facebook friends are posting politically oriented content. To some extent, I’m guilty of it in that I share links to articles that I’ve written, many of which are politically oriented with a liberal slant, on Facebook.

However, to what extent is it OK to post political articles and content on Facebook, especially when many people are on Facebook for business reasons, for sharing personal photos and family information, for telling people they’re at Reading Terminal Market eating a hoagie, or for announcing that they like WWE Wrestling? Do people get annoyed when they get political posts that they disagree with? Do they want to unfriend people if their political views offend them? You don’t want to talk about religion or politics at the dinner table, but is it OK to talk about politics on Facebook?

Jodi R.R. Smith, president of Mannersmith, a Boston area etiquette consulting company, told the Boston Herald, “As a believer in democracy, we need to have these conversations, but not on Facebook. Go to rallies. Knock on your neighbors’ doors. Come over to my house to see the debate. But don’t go into why you should be voting for this person on Facebook. Convince them in person so there can be a real dialogue.”

Mark McNeilly of Fast Company stated this week that exposing your political views on Facebook can hurt your brand with friends, co-workers, clients, or employers.

Personally, I’m OK with sending and receiving politically oriented Facebook posts, even when I disagree with my Facebook friends. Sometimes when a friend sends something pro Tea Partyish, I roll my eyes and sigh, “There they go again.” At times, it’s tempting to block them when they bash Obama relentlessly or cite to an article “proving” his Muslim faith or that he was born in Kenya. But to me it’s not a big deal. I know that we’re not going to convince each other that our position is right, but I like to see what the other side is thinking about. Most of the time I just read the headline. I see the posts as the equivalent of a campaign button, a lawn sign, or a flyer in the mail. It’s a different situation than a family holiday get together, where it’s hard to ignore or not engage in the conversation and get your blood boiling or bite your tongue from shouting. Generally, I try to avoid getting into an online argument or debate with my Facebook friends, and I usually don’t post negative comments on their posts. I appreciate it that most of my Facebook friends haven’t posted negative comments about my political articles that I’ve posted. Basically, I’ll “like” or “share” the incoming political posts that I like and just ignore the ones that I don’t.

Rick Brunson, a journalism professor at the University of Central Florida, told the Orlando Sentinel that he disagrees with the practice of blocking a Facebook friend over politics, stating, “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. That’s the price you pay for stepping into a social-media platform.”

If your Facebook friends’ political posts are really giving you agita, there is a remedy that doesn’t involve unfriending. Many people don’t know that there is a way to block political posts by blocking certain keywords such as Obama or Romney. There was a discussion on Mediabistro two weeks ago about this. It referenced Lifehacker, which lists several steps on how you can block political posts. Other sites, including Digital Journal have listed these steps as well.

Whether you like it or not, it seems as though the mix of politics and Facebook is here to stay. A March survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project of 2,253 U.S. adults found that 84 percent of social network users said they posted little or nothing related to politics. However, nearly 50 percent of Democrats and 33 percent of Republicans said that social networking sites were important to them in keeping up with political news. The survey indicated that 82 percent of social media users do not disconnect from friends with different political views.

Just think, if Facebook existed years ago, you could have “Liked” Ike, “Poked” for Polk, or “Linked” to Lincoln.

Larry Atkins, a lawyer and a journalist, teaches journalism at Temple University and Arcadia University. He has written for the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Huffington Post, NPR, Philadelphia Inquirer, and others.