News Column

Social Media Fights on Facebook, Twitter over 2012 Elections

October 29, 2012

Michael Newsom, The Sun Herald

Brian Powers admits he gets under the skin of his Facebook friends. He's not alone. During campaign season, social media heats up with political arguments to the point that relatives "unfriend" each other, some report long-standing friendships are tested and some have even ended over Facebook posts and Twitter tweets. Facebook and Twitter users have fought over the merits and flaws of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. Celebrity social media spats during the heated presidential campaign have also made headlines.

Powers, of Biloxi, said he's always interested to see how people respond to his online volleys. It's a sociological experiment of sorts for him.

"I mix it up all the time," Powers said. "I just like to point out the ridiculousness of the polarization of American politics and the total disregard for fact. When I throw the fact out there, which I do the research to find out what it is before I say something ... I watch other people get so offended when I'm telling them they are wrong."

Powers said he often encounters online friends who continue to believe incorrect information, even when the facts show otherwise.

"Beliefs are problems to me," Powers said. "(People) blindly believe this way no matter what you say. When you stick up numbers and give them links and quotes, (links to) government websites, they tell

you you're stupid. They use terrible language. When you start correcting their English, that's when the deleting starts."

He spoke just as he'd finished up a Facebook argument that prompted someone to unfriend him, which Powers usually finds amusing. Two relatives have unfriended him. But the beefs aren't limited to political discussions. Two users blocked him for criticizing the quality of the writing on the hit TV show "Sons of Anarchy."

"They want to insult you and when you say something back to them, they get mad," Powers said. "We live in a completely polarizing society right now and it's kind of scary. Sometimes, I think Facebook and Twitter, for all the good, there's a lot of bad."

Celebs feud

Actor Alec Baldwin took to Twitter in September to slam country music legend Hank Williams Jr. after Williams had slammed Obama at the Iowa State Fair. According to CBS News, Williams said Obama was a Muslim who "hates farming, hates the military and hates the U.S. and we hate him." Baldwin shot back on Twitter that if Williams weren't such a "pathetic, wheezing fossil, I'd have a talk with him. I think we need to call Hank Williams Jr. what he is ... a broken down, senile, racist coot."

Polarization aplenty

Sarah Kathryn Cronier, 23, of Pascagoula, said she's been annoyed by the polarization and the arguing on her Facebook feed. Both sides portray the other as being completely bad, which she said isn't realistic. It's tiresome to read, she said.

"(The posts are about) Romney being a liar about everything he says, everything that comes out of his mouth," Cronier said. "Yes, some of it is lies, some of it is truth. The same for Obama. People think he's such a liar. He's done some good and he's done some not-so-good things. People don't see the other side. They don't take into consideration the good parts of the (opposition)."

Though the negativity aggravates her, Cronier said it's tough to look away.

"I know I could just not read it," she said. "It's like a car crash that you just have to watch and read the comments. It's interesting, but it's awful."

Family friction

Elizabeth Flatt, 68, is a staunch conservative from Gulfport. She has made some of her more liberal relatives, including a niece who lives in Texas, angry because of her Facebook posts about politics.

"I fire those things out," she said. "Anything I can get. (My niece) said, 'Aunt Lizzy, I love you, but I am going to block you.'"

Flatt said some people from a local yacht club are what she calls liberal, and they have respectfully argued with her on Facebook. She said she's also using Facebook and Twitter fairly regularly, but she hasn't had any recent arguments with followers she'd previously battled.

She said she doesn't care if her posts have been blocked.

David Cameron, 56, of Moss Point, said he gets into political discussions regularly, and quickly finds out where others stand. It's addicting, he said, and as the election nears the talks have intensified.

Cameron, who describes himself as a fiscal conservative who is liberal on social issues, finds he gets deleted fairly quickly by those who have differing views.

"People like to form their groups," he said. "About a year ago, if I didn't believe that Obama was a secret Muslim, I was deleted. The hard-core ones kind of filter you out. They delete you. People like like-minded people, I guess."

Calling for calm

Sun Herald reader Dayna Watson Runge, a former Biloxian who now lives in Richmond, Texas, saw a close friendship ruined over a Facebook dispute about gay marriage.

The couple on the other side of the dispute opposed same-sex unions. Runge didn't oppose it. The debate became so heated Runge and her husband no longer speak to the other couple.

"I was very upset about it," she said. "I cried and cried. It really hurt."

But Powers, who enjoys online debates, said he thinks some fights result because electronic communications aren't always easy to understand.

"Sometimes tone doesn't come through in text and people don't pick up on sarcasm or satire as they could if you were just saying it to them," he said. "It offends them. You've insulted their intelligence."

Powers said he never gets rattled during the online jousting and he believes others would benefit from approaching it in a more light-hearted manner.

"Stop taking everything so seriously," he said, laughing. "I'm not going to be mad about anything. I'm laughing the whole time."

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Source: (c) 2012 The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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