Prof: Election season makes it hard to like some Facebook friends

October 25, 2012  


Glenn Sparks

Glenn Sparks
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — People dropping Facebook friends over political differences is a reminder that some of those so-called friendships are virtual, not the face-to-face type, says a Purdue University communication professor.

"Facebook friendships are often diluted, because the reality of managing dozens, hundreds or thousands of these friendships is just not possible," says Glenn Sparks, who studies mass media effects and interpersonal relationships. "That's why people are easily surprised when some of their Facebook friends post or like different political candidates or issues. It begs the question of how well do you really know these people. And, it also explains why people can quickly dismiss these connections."

Sparks, who is co-author of "Refrigerator Rights: Our Crucial Need for Close Connection," says the ease of dropping these social media friends is a reminder that weaker social connections should not be a replacement for face-to-face interactions.

"While Facebook is wonderful for keeping in touch with people, there is a danger in these social media friends taking over and consuming time from getting to know neighbors and people in the community," Sparks says. "The friendships marked by regular face-to-face contact typically matter more to one's overall sense of well-being. Unlike virtual friendships, they are built on regular, casual conversation in which voices are heard and faces are seen."

He also says that talking about something as sensitive as politics on Facebook shows that social media is not necessarily a good replacement for such exchanges.

"Political expressions are really expressions of emotion because they are about how people feel about candidates, issues or their future," Sparks says. "These are really deep feelings, and when we express these feelings, text is an impoverished way to do that. Text is more subject to misinterpretation, and we can't instantaneously monitor and react to comments as if engaged in a face-to-face conversation. It easily leads to misinterpretation, disagreement and attitude polarization - thus feeding people's emotions to unfriend their friends."

The book "Refrigerator Rights" was published in 2002. Sparks and the book's co-author, Will Miller, say that as people move farther away and are more engaged in media, there is a greater void in face-to-face relationships.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Glenn Sparks, gsparks@purdue.edu

Note to Journalists: Glenn Sparks is available in person and via Skype, satellite uplink, Vyvx and ISDN. For more information, contact Jim Schenke, Purdue News Service, 765-237-7296, jschenke@purdue.edu

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