This Nov. 17 is National UnFriend Day, the third annual holiday that encourages Facebook users to prune their roster of “Friends” of people they haven’t spoken to in 11 years, but nevertheless grant access to their online vacation photos. But with the Republican National Convention in full swing and the presidential campaign kicking in to high gear, it wouldn’t surprise me if many Facebook users are jumping the gun on the cleansing holiday.
Surely you’ve checked your Facebook account in the past two days to discover posts, links, and status updates related to the convention in Tampa, where Ann Romney, Chris Christie, and Paul Ryan have set the table for Mitt Romney to accept his party’s nomination for president tonight. Facebook is a forum that inspires great personal proclamations, sentiments we might be more reluctant to express in a real, face-to-face conversation. Looking at some of my Friends comments, I can’t decide if Facebook acts as an X-ray machine or a warping funhouse mirror. Some of the comments are so belligerent and obnoxious (and in many cases, misinformed) that one can’t help but feel to urge to… Unfriend.
If you’re like me, you probably have at least one “crazy” relative, in-law, or sibling whose political DNA is more red than your blue, or vice versa. In the good old analog days, you could just avoid them at Thanksgiving or at the family picnic, smile and make a graceful escape to the next table when the conversation somehow went from public schools to “That communist in the White House” or the 9/11 conspiracy. But with Facebook, those antagonistic musings are extremely difficult to ignore and painful to endure. Painful because in many cases, those provocative statements come from someone you otherwise like — a neighbor down the street, a high-school classmate, your mom. And politics being so tribal these days, it can be difficult to remember all the good things you liked about this Friend in the first place when they’re busy denigrating your candidate with screeds and half-truths.
To be fair, I’ve posted links to political essays on Facebook and written status updates that mocked pols I don’t respect. In at least one case, it cost me a Facebook Friend. In all honesty, I was quite offended by the rejection — “Me? What? It was a joke…” — though I’m recently reminded of the impulse to sever ties with Friends of that political ilk, at least online. But may I suggest an alternative? Click on their personal page, click on Friends, and then simply eliminate their posts from your News Feed. It takes just three clicks, and you won’t have to explain to your cranky great-aunt why she can no longer see photos of your kids.
In the next 10 weeks, you’re bound to encounter more and more shrill political provocation on Facebook. (Whatever your political allegiance, odds are at least some of your Friends don’t share your views.) If your skin is too thin, and you have an itchy UnFriend finger, you might find yourself all alone on Nov. 6.
And then you will have no one to UnFriend on Nov. 17.
Have you been UnFriending during this campaign season? How did that go over when you faced the “dumpee” in-person?