Connected Avoiding politics on social media


Trace your social media use back to the first time you used Facebook to learn about political candidates. It was likely during the 2008 race.

Many credit President Barack Obama’s use of social media for his victory in 2008. He connected with voters via social media, particularly younger voters.

Fast forward eight years and social media has become, for some, a necessary tool for staying up-to-date on the twists of this tumultuous election cycle. The problem for many has become sifting through the garbage to find meaningful, substantial information.

We’re still learning how to navigate the messy marriage of politics and social media. In fact, many of my friends have simply abandoned Facebook, claiming they’ll return after Nov. 8.

My reaction is, “wait a smidge longer.” Then I reference the 2000 election. Think what Bush-Gore would have been like in today’s social media world.

Most of my friends who have left Facebook say that reading their newsfeed every day created too much stress.

I’ve found myself agreeing with them so much that I actually cut my own Facebook consumption. I gander at my news feed three or four times a week now (before this I was easily scrolling my feed three or four times a day).

One of my favorite articles on social media and stress appeared in Computers In Human Behavior a few years ago, but it’s incredibly relevant today. Researchers Jesse Fox at Ohio State University and Jennifer Moreland at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus found that people felt stress over the amount of connectivity they had on Facebook.

Some stress was related to how visible they were to the rest of the world. Sharing posts about birthdays and happy moments are often just as stressful for private people as posts about politics, religion and race.

Despite feeling stressed, these Facebook users felt social pressures to stay connected and visible.

Fox and Moreland’s focus groups revealed something else: The biggest stressors came from posts about social comparisons and conflict.

So it should surprise no one that my friends who have abandoned Facebook have done so to eliminate stress from their lives.

But not everyone is willing to give up Facebook. They’re just looking for a way around mean and nasty political posts.

In preparation for this column, I posted the following message to my Facebook page a few days ago:

“I’m looking for social media users who try to avoid political posts. You avoid reading them, avoid posting them, or both. What are your tricks? Or maybe you’re just the opposite, and you love to troll political posts to inject your own particular brand of witty repartee, or you just really feel the need to right a wrong. How do you decide when to post and when to pass?”

Interestingly enough, I received almost 40 comments and only eight “likes.”

Look for their tips in next week’s column.

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Read his blog at adamearn.com and follow him on Twitter at @adamearn.

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