Stick to the shallows on social media


You love your friends, right? You may not agree with them on everything, but you know they are people of integrity and value, and sure, they’re a bit of craic as well.
That is probably the case for your real friends – ie the ones you know and regularly spend time with in person – but is it the case for your online circle?
Increasingly, I’m seeing friends put on Facebook things like ‘just doing a clear out of my friends list – if I haven’t seen you in a year, you’re probably gone’, or ‘if you are reading this message, you survived the cull – congratulations’.
After a couple of heady years of feeling unbelievably popular – I mean, not even the Fonz had 743 friends, surely – we are growing up in our online behaviour and choosing our buddies a bit more carefully. Or are we?
A study from the University of Colorado has found that there are certain Facebook posts that get people unfriended, and that particular topics are turn-offs. The old saying about politics and religion seems to apply almost to a greater extent on Facebook than it does in real life.
The study, conducted by PhD candidate Christopher Stibona, found that, while the majority of ‘unfriending’ took place because of ‘unimportant’ or ‘irrelevant’ posts – blow by blow updates of mealtimes, etc – the next, greatest offender was politics, cited as the cause of 26 per cent of unfriendings. Sticking to the shallows, it seems, is the only way to remain popular on Facebook.
The biggest news story of the summer has been the Israeli offensive in Gaza. And I’ve seen more than one friend become increasingly obsessed with this, to the point where others have removed them as friends. War in Gaza is exactly the type of polarising issue that will see you lose Facebook friends, because while you may have carefully audited your real life friends to ensure they share your worldview, that Israeli guy you met on the J1 in 1998 may not be so in tune with your beliefs.
Your hairdresser – with whom, up to now, you’ve only discussed holidays, hair products and the latest accessories in Penneys – is continually sharing photos of dead children from Gaza, and your old PE teacher keeps posting pro-choice messages.
Facebook has turned each of us into our own PR machine, it doesn’t pay to get into anything too gritty. All those vague acquaintances love you for your selfies and those interesting links to paleo recipes you put up every twenty minutes, not for your opinions on serious things.
After politics and religion, come posts that are job or promotion-related. Nobody likes a fanatic, or a show-off. I wish someone would tell the person in my timeline who posts about their work bonus every year – but after muting him last year, it’s no longer my problem.
While Twitter is an acceptable place for political and religious discussions – most people are there either for that or the Kardashians – Facebook, it seems, isn’t.
So the average punter on the street probably needs to look at those in the public eye for inspiration. Celebrities, you’d think, would be old hacks at this carry-on of keeping their opinions to themselves, unless those opinions are about shampoo and they’re being paid well for them. Not so, however – rumour has it that Hollywood is blacklisting Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz for protesting Israel’s actions in Gaza.
It seems only Angelina and George can get away with that type of thing, but, luckily, I’m not Facebook friends with either of them.

 

This article appeared in The Herald.

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