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13 November 2012

The Interwebs and the Decline of Heterophily

On and around Election Day this year, I noticed something surprising. Few of my friends were posting political statuses on Facebook (FB), and those who did had posts that were generally aligned in the direction of my own political leanings. This is a change. In the past, my feed would have blown up with a bunch of contentious posts and comments. Why not this year? I think two things are going on. The first and lesser change is, I believe, that many people have increasingly tried to negotiate FB as an apolitical, or at least a politically-tempered, social space. This isn't to say that there still isn't a lot of inflammatory stuffy floating around FB, but it seems more isolated and infrequent. The second and greater change--and one to which I can attest anecdotally from my own behavior--is that the FB programmers added a feature a while back by which users can remove, or "hide," "friends" from their News Feed, in effect ignoring them in perpetuity without de-friending or otherwise alerting those connections to their downgraded status. Initially, there was no way to do this. One either was another's friend and generally had to indiscriminately view those inane or incendiary status updates or one de-friended. Since there is a general tendency to retain friendships, people are reluctant to completely sever a tie, especially before an alternative short of de-friending had been coded. This is the great irony of the internet, that it was a technology that promised to connect us all but that has instead in many ways reinforced homophily and tribalism. I'm less likely to encounter the diatribes of my right-wing friends on the internet, and they are less likely to encounter my left-wing rants, too. The weak social ties that Facebook used to facilitate which served as conduits for information are now only nominal ties, devoid of any real social function. I fear that we are all worse off because of this.


  1. This is exactly why I was so disappointed by the election aftermath on facebook. I was torn between hiding the vitriol and making my feed a happy place again and keeping the vitriol to keep up my exposure to thinking that I disagree with. I opted to hide folks for now, but will eventually unhide them. I couldn't bring myself to unfriend. At least not yet.