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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Law of Facebook Polarization?

I wrote the other day about varying responses of my Facebook "friends" to the Tucson shootings.  It gives me cause to reflect on something I notice every time I turn to my friend recommendations on Facebook.  Outside of my immediate network of actual friends who happen to be on Facebook, my friend recommendations tend to be, or seem to be, radically split politically.  On a given day, Facebook is telling me I ought to "friend" John Yoo and Lee Liberman Otis on the right, and someone equally prominent on the left, with many fewer people in between.  (I apologize for using "left" and "right" as placeholders here, given my earlier discussion!)

I wonder whether others have experienced the same thing.  I may just have a diverse group of contacts; perhaps there are others who get all-left recommendations, all-right recommendations, neither, or mostly affinity-based recommendations (say, all-fantasy-book-enthusiasts).  Or it may be that the legal academy -- the source of many of my "friends" and friend recommendations -- has a lot of people with strong political views, which creates a network of outlying people with even stronger and more polarized political views.  Perhaps others can suggest further reasons for this skewing effect, assuming it is real and not a figment of my selective perception.  

On the whole, I find the phenomenon entertaining, if for no other reasons than that my recommendation page tends to involve some very odd bedfellows.  And it is interesting to see which issues are salient to which of my friends, and how little the same issues or perceptions seem pertinent to all of my Facebook friends--except for status updates about Mad Men, of course.  That show seems to be the only cultural vehicle that unites most of the chattering class despite internal ideological rifts.  Maybe a bipartisan congressional caucus on 60s advertising agencies and their sexual practices is what this country really needs to bring us all together.  

Posted by Paul Horwitz on January 19, 2011 at 10:22 AM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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Paul, I think that there is some kind of FB application or game that can tell you exactly what your FB community looks like, partisan-wise (i.e. what % Dems, % Reps, etc.). I tend to shy away from these games as they often ask me to 'name names' of FB friends, but I do enjoy seeing people post that app on their status.

Posted by: Jeff Yates | Jan 21, 2011 12:42:34 PM

Maybe you're already friends with all the moderates. :-)

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jan 19, 2011 3:32:08 PM

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