How to Avoid Politics on Social Media

As election talk takes over social media, some have found ways to tune it out.

November 4, 2012, 3:59 PM

Nov. 5, 2012 — -- Jeff McDowell, 31, has always avoided political conversations with his friends at the dinner table or on the phone. "It was better for my relationships," he told ABC News.

Now, during this election season, McDowell sees the political views of his closest friends. "I open up Facebook, and bam! I cannot escape them."

McDowell said he tries his hardest not to read the posts of his liberal friends and tries even harder not to respond.

Of course, McDowell isn't the only one. With 66 percent of social media users reading or participating in political conversation, according to the Pew Center, many have found themselves in the same position as McDowell -- drowning in politics whether they like it or not.

Some admitted to ABC News that various posts they have seen have made them hate people they have known for years. Others said the posts got them into heated conversations. And then there are those that have said that they now just avoid Facebook or Twitter altogether.

But others have taken matters into their own hands, figuring out how to avoid the posts and the frustration.

The De-Friend or Unfollow

"I have defriended several people after deluges of political posts," Liz Mo told ABC News. "What I found was that several of my 'friends' seemed to focus much of their energy on emotionally-charged political rants based on misinformation they had gleaned from other people's posts or headline skimming on the Web."

Sarah Anderson did the same. "I've unfriended people for their repeated political posts, though I usually just block their posts from my feed, so they can still read my posts if they want to (and I can go to their page and read theirs if I'm curious as to what the other side is saying)," Anderson said.

While Mo and Anderson de-friended the most severe offenders, they and many others also have taken to just blocking and hiding posts on Facebook. Hiding a post will prompt Facebook automatically to start weeding out posts from that person in your Timeline. You can also set up separate lists for individuals who talk about politics frequently.

On Twitter, however, you don't have such filters. And many on Twitter are prepared to unfollow their friends or contacts in the coming days.

"Ready to unfollow anyone who continually tweets about politics, especially if I don't agree with you," Shawn Hotson (@shawnhotson) tweeted.

"Going to unfollow a few until the election is over. Doesn't mean I don't love you. :-)," Creek Harris (@creekharris) tweeted.

"It is harder with Twitter. You don't have a filtering system like with Facebook. The option there is to unfollow or you might just stay off the Internet or Twitter during big political events," Robert Scoble, a social media expert and Rackspace's startup liaison officer, told ABC News.

Unpolitic Your Feeds

But there's another way to filter political messages on the services, including Twitter, thanks to Chris Baker and some of his friends.

Baker and his team came up with UnBaby.Me when they saw their Facebook feeds becoming flooded with photos of their friends' children or newborns. The software, which can be installed via a Chrome browser, replaces photos of cute babies on Facebook with pictures of cute cats or anything else you'd like.

Baker said the software was easy to tweak and could easily be tailored to block other things on Facebook. And that's exactly what he did.

Working with Buzzfeed, they came up with The browser extension blocks any post on Facebook and Twitter that has common political terms or names, such as "election," "Romney," or "Obama." A Facebook post containing any of the pre-set words will be blocked and replaced with a photo of a cat. The text of a Twitter post will be wiped and replaced with a link to Buzzfeed's cats page. You can customize both the words you don't want to see, and what images you would prefer in their place.

"People were demanding it," Baker told ABC News. "We have had a lot of users saying how the silence is golden and how the new constant stream of cats is making them happier. I think it's doing its part to help with sanity."

In addition to there's another extension for Firefox, Chrome, and Safari browsers called Socialfixer. Socialfixer lets you filter messages based on keywords on Facebook. It's more complicated to set up and only works with Facebook, but it does pull all the messages out of the feed and puts them on a different tab on your Facebook feed.

Tolerance or Finding 'Harmonious Discord'

Some others ABC News spoke to recommended mentally tuning out the posts, while others suggested finding places to go where the conversation is less contentious.

Samuel Harrison and his friend Mark Hines created a Facebook group called "Harmonious Discord" -- a safe space for political conversation on Facebook.

The group is open to anyone, but requires people to be respectful of each other's views. "This project is designed to show how we can have an honest political discussion without the spit and vinegar that seems inseparable from politics in our time," the group's description says.

It encourages people to be open to other points of view. And ultimately, social media can be a great outlet for that.

"Is my world view really correct? If you can't test that a little bit, that's not good. And places like Facebook and Twitter can be a good place to do that," Scoble said. "Sure, if you're deluged with stuff, I understand that, but the good news is there is something you can do about it."

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