Facebook friendships breaking down over election debates, says social media researcher

Lizette Tejada says she's had many heated debates and one relationship breakdown on Facebook over issues related to Canadian politics.

Calgary woman was unfriended, blocked and told she 'was an apologist for terrorists'

Friends and followers are amassed on social media sites at lightning speed compared to the typically gradual build of relationships forged offline. Yet for some, being "unfriended" can be bruising to the ego — even if the relationships aren't close. (Giordano Ciampini/Canadian Press)

Political debates on social media are always a bit touchy, but it seems some polarizing issues in this federal election are really starting to take a toll on Facebook friendships.

That's according to Elizabeth Dubois with the Ryerson University Social Media Lab, who has been surveying Canadians during the federal election campaign who use the hashtag #CDNpoli.

"A lot of people talk about blocking someone who they see as a troll or just trying to stir up trouble," she said.

While it's difficult to measure the exact fallout over political issues, Dubois says the conversation online is getting feisty with the vote coming up on October 19.

Dubois points to five federal election issues, in particular, that are getting a lot of attention:

  1. Ottawa posts $1.9B surplus for fiscal 2014-2015
  2. Syrian refugee crisis
  3. Wayne Gretzky endorses Harper despite not being allowed to vote
  4. Niqab debate
  5. Voting selfies

Calgary woman unfriended on Facebook 

In the months leading up to the federal election, Lizette Tejada says she's had dozens of heated political debates on social media.

But it was an online spat over the hijab that ended a 24-year friendship.

Back in January, the friend — whom Tejada prefers not to name — posted an article on Facebook that supported Michelle Obama's decision to not cover her head with a head scarf during a January visit to Saudi Arabia.

"I pointed out this isn't really a news item, no dignitaries feel the need or are obligated to wear hijab — at which point he started telling me that I wasn't a true feminist because if I was a true feminist, I wouldn't defend people's right to wear a hijab," said Tejada.

The conversation ended with a full-on Facebook breakup.

"[I was] later told through his wife that I had been unfriended and blocked because I was an apologist for terrorists."

Online aggression

Elizabeth Dubois is a research associate with the Social Media Lab at Ryerson University. (@lizdubois/Twitter)

Dubois says you shouldn't be surprised if you witness a friend post something on Facebook or Twitter that you think they would never say to your face.

"The computer screen physically being in front of you, physically dividing you from the other person, you don't see their facial expressions, their reactions," she said.

"You don't connect with them on the same human level if you could hear their tone of voice over a phone call, or you see their face as you respond to the comments you made in person."

  • Have you unfriended or blocked anyone on Facebook over an issue related to the upcoming federal election? Leave your stories in the comments section.