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List Time: Facebook Political Posts

De-friending threats have reached an all-time high as Facebook collides with election season.  This year seems much worse than in 2008, doesn’t it?   

Most claim that they cannot wait until the election is over so they don’t have it shoved in their face each of the 37 times they go to FB during the day.  But admit it: Part of you loves it.  There is something tribal about logging on, seeing a post that you find ridiculous, and thinking…”What a moron; I’m so much smarter than that person.”  OR seeing  a post from someone on your team and remembering…”They agree with me; I knew we were right all along.”

Nevertheless, my soul has taken a slight bruising in recent weeks as I’ve clawed through the muck on my feed.  Many different thoughts have popped up, and I’d like to share them…

(1) Anyone with Windows 95 and four minutes can make a chart.  If there is no attribution for the stats listed on that chart, you should take it with a 500 lb grain of salt.  The fact that it has been shared 10,000 times does not make it more reliable.

(2) There is almost nothing that can be learned from a one-sentence talking point.  Obama does not want to give all of your money to poor people.  Romney does not want poor people shot on the spot.

(3) Placing words over an unflattering picture of the candidate does not magically make those words more accurate.

(4) The fact that 30 people liked your post bashing a candidate is not a sign that you were right.  It’s a sign that, like everyone else on the planet, you associate with people that already think like you do.

(5) If your immediate response to a post is, “Why would the candidate be so stupid as to do that?” then there is a good chance the candidate did not actually do it.  No, Mitt Romney did not try to kill his dog.  No, President Obama did not apologize to terrorists after the tragedy in Libya.

(6) Trust me, we already know who you are voting for.  We do not need to see 14 photos of the President every day to be reminded that you are an Obama supporter.  If the cartoon, slogan, or picture that you are sharing doesn’t provide new or useful information to others, its not worth posting.

(7) It is actually OK to be undecided.  Just because you post something critical of President Obama does not mean that you cannot post anything nice about him.

(8) The fact that a lot of people are talking about it doesn’t make it important.  Paul Ryan didn’t run a marathon as fast as we thought?  Whoop-de-do.   Move on and actually read his “Path to Prosperity” and the CBO analysis of that plan and compare it to something like the Simpson-Bowles plan.

(9) Attacking a weak argument does not mean that the other side is actually making that argument.  It’s called a straw man.  No, Obama supporters are not voting against Mitt Romney because he is rich.

(10) The debates are coming up.  Let me save you the trouble: You are going to think that your candidate “won” the debate.  The other side is going to disagree completely. We all watch the same debates and have our prior opinions reinforced.  It’s science.

(11) You can say things like “obviously” or “its so clear” or “its speaks for itself.”  But that doesn’t mean it actually is–politics are messy, confusing, contradictory, and complex.

(12) Do you really think its just a coincidence that all sources that say something you disagree with are biased?  Maybe, just maybe, they are actually providing you information that you’d hadn’t thought about yet.

(13) You will not get an award if your candidate wins.  No one will think that you are smarter or more popular if the person you voted for becomes President.  The people who disagree with you now will disagree with you after the election.  Its more important to think through the issues than to pick a side and root for that side blindly.

(14) When you actually step into the booth to vote, you do not have to select the person who you wrote the most Facebook messages about.  No one will know. Be open to learning more and changing your mind up until the last moment.

(15) Take two deep breaths.  No matter what happens, we will get through this.  Every single election is a “turning point” with the “future of our country on the line.”  It’s always the most important decision in decades that will decide the course of the world.  BUT, when you wake up the day after the election, your house will be the same color, your coffee will taste the same, you will go to the same job, and come home to the same person (or animal or lamp).  Keep calm and carry on.

Friendship Limit

Social networks ease the friction of maintaining relationships.  But do they really allow us to have more friends than before?  Some research says No.

Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist who now works at Oxford University, concluded that the cognitive power of the brain limits the size of the social network that an individual of any given species can develop. Extrapolating from the brain sizes and social networks of apes, Dr Dunbar suggested that the size of the human brain allows stable networks of about 148. Rounded to 150, this has become famous as “the Dunbar number”.

So the classic idea is that groups can only all know each other and interact with 150 others.  That’s it.  But even that number is way to high to call a friendship network.  Consider…

Moreover, sociologists also distinguish between a person’s wider network, as described by the Dunbar number or something similar, and his social “core”. Peter Marsden, of Harvard University, found that Americans, even if they socialise a lot, tend to have only a handful of individuals with whom they “can discuss important matters”. A subsequent study found, to widespread concern, that this number is on a downward trend.

Applying that to Facebook we get these numbers.  First, the average person has 120 Facebook friends, with women having slightly more.  And how much do these average users actually interact with others…

Thus an average man—one with 120 friends—generally responds to the postings of only seven of those friends by leaving comments on the posting individual’s photos, status messages or “wall”. An average woman is slightly more sociable, responding to ten. When it comes to two-way communication such as e-mails or chats, the average man interacts with only four people and the average woman with six

What about those Facebookers (mostly those who were college students when it all began) who have 500 friends or more?

Among those Facebook users with 500 friends, these numbers are somewhat higher, but not hugely so. Men leave comments for 17 friends, women for 26. Men communicate with ten, women with 16.

The take-away…

Put differently, people who are members of online social networks are not so much “networking” as they are “broadcasting their lives to an outer tier of acquaintances who aren’t necessarily inside the Dunbar circle,”