Honey, Can You Please Pass the Politics?

How Mixing Politics and Friendships Can Make for Awkward Table Talk

Picture it: You've got a tableful of tasty food and all of your family and friends are gathered around to share a holiday meal. Sounds like a lovely evening. "Could you please pass the mashed potatoes?" someone asks.

But when you check your smartphone after dessert, you realize that your childhood friend sitting next to you (who's smiling and acting like everything is peachy) just "unfriended" you on Facebook for making a nasty online comment about Newt Gingrich. The horror! It's like a scene from a soap opera.

The media is covering this topic like wildfire, and rightfully so. (Check out recent interviews I did on this very topic on WABC-TV Eyewitness News and amNew York). A recent poll by social media analytics company NM Incite suggests that 14% of Facebook users who unfriend someone do so because they've been offended by political comments that were posted on the site. What does this say about free speech? Is it only free if someone is willing to agree with you? Or is the price you pay for speaking freely the loss of friends?

Personally, I think it's all a balancing act. We become friends with people on Facebook because we want to connect with them, get regular updates on things happening in their lives and share our experiences with them. These are often the same reasons we become friends with people in real life. And we typically become friends with people who share our opinions, compliment things we do and enjoy doing the same things we do.

But that doesn't explain why so many Facebook users feel compelled to unfriend someone just because he or she expressed a particular political view. Can't they just avoid reading those status updates? Would they unfriend someone in real life who made a political comment they didn't like? And what does this say about the future of our relationships? There are more questions than answers, but in my opinion, rightly or wrongly, this is becoming the new norm. Social media has changed not only the way we share and receive information, but also the way we interact and the ways in which relationships function.

Here are some other interesting statistics from the NM Incite study regarding Facebook users' behavior:
• 82% of users make someone their Facebook friend because they know the person in real life

• 23% of users unfriend someone because the friend made depressing comments on the site

• 11% of users unfriend someone due to a breakup or divorce

• 3% of users unfriend someone for not updating their profile often enough

Looks like this dinner party is going to have some interesting conversation. Could you please pass the unsubscribe button with a side of unfriend?