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Contentious 2016 election spurs Facebook divide for LIers

The 2016 presidential election has spurred lots of

The 2016 presidential election has spurred lots of political commentary, and even disputes, on social media. Some Long Islanders say they have lost Facebook friends as a result of political differences. Photo Credit: Brian Hoerning via Facebook

Days after the 2016 election ended, Stacey Keller-Novita is coming to terms with a new president and a shorter-than-expected friends list on Facebook.

The Hewlett resident is one of several Long Islanders who are reporting damaged friendships and bitter online disputes with family and acquaintances over what many see as the most contentious election in U.S. history.

“I would see a post from a friend that I was surprised they would be going in the direction they were going,” Keller-Novita said. “It angered me because I thought I knew people.”

As Facebook has become an important tool for sharing opinions, elections draw significant activity. A Facebook spokesman said on Election Day alone this year, 115.3 million people on Facebook worldwide generated 716.3 million likes, posts, comments and shares related to the election.

Keller-Novita, 41, said she’s always been passionate about politics online, but the last two presidential elections generated disputes among her circle on Facebook.

She said most of her arguments were with acquaintances — people she said she didn’t get along with anyway. In one instance, Keller-Novita, who voted for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, unfriended someone because she became frustrated with their political posts. In response, the person’s spouse unfriended her.

Katie Byrnes, 22, of East Islip, said she tried to avoid political posts this year after seeing nasty comments elsewhere on Facebook. But she announced Tuesday she had voted for Republican nominee Donald Trump, and later posted she was happy her chosen candidate won.

Byrnes said she received harassing messages after a Facebook friend — one she said she didn’t know in real life — shared one of her posts. Friends made negative comments on her post celebrating the election’s outcome, she said.

“A lot of them unfriended me and told me I was racist. They just assumed things,” she said.

Byrnes said she doesn’t remember getting any blowback on Facebook after the 2012 election.

In a 2012 Pew research survey, 38 percent of social media users said they discovered their friends’ political views were different from what they had thought.

People who identified as liberals were most likely to block, unfriend or hide other users in 2012, but only about 18 percent of all voters surveyed had taken those steps, according to Pew.

While similar data aren’t available yet for this election campaign, many social media users say political discussions took a much more negative turn in 2016.

“The level of civility and common decency on social media has eroded so quickly during this election,” Harry Kalogeresis, 38, of Lindenhurst, said.

Kalogeresis ended a Facebook friendship with someone he had known from high school after the two had an unpleasant exchange on the social media site about gun rights. He’s also had disputes that ended Facebook friendships with family members.

Brian Hoerning, 28, of Bay Shore said he tried not to let disputes end Facebook relationships. Instead, he sometimes deleted comments others made on his pro-Trump posts if the discussion got combative.

“Everyone was just completely against each other this time, there was no middle,” he said. “People don’t think before they speak on social media.”

He estimated he lost six Facebook friends this year.

One unique aspect of the 2016 election is there’s never been more people online, and it’s never been easier to block someone on social media, said Jessica Baldwin-Philippi, a professor of new media at Fordham University.

You can easily unfriend someone, or you can ask Facebook’s algorithm to stop showing specific posts or people on your news feed, she said.

“Digital platforms blend the social and political in a way that’s uncomfortable for many,” she said.

Keller-Novita sometimes wonders if she acted too quickly in removing some friends. One friendship that ended on Facebook had been meaningful, but she said she’s open to making amends — in the future.

“Right now, I just need to keep my distance,” she said.

With Rachel Uda

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