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Social media wrap: How to lose Facebook friends and influence (Rick Sanchez take note)

October 6, 2010 | 12:22 pm

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In politics and media, it’s said to be wise to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. But what if you’ve been unfriended on Facebook for making an impolitic remark?

Political statements are one of the main reasons that Facebook and social-media users get “unfriended” -- or removed from a friend list -- a new study has found.  Frequent, unimportant posting is cited as another key reason. 

So while you may find your local congressional representative’s repetitive tweeting about the pulled-pork sandwich he ate at the weekend rally a little tiresome, you at least now have a reason to remind them to stick to the issues. 

Making crude or racist comments was the third main reason for being unfriended (for more on Rick Sanchez, see below), a survey of more than 1,500 Facebook users by a University of Colorado Business School student reveals. 

Perhaps key to note for politicians on Twitter and Facebook was that just 27% of survey respondents would unfriend a person for their offline behavior, while 57% considered online behavior -- or “netiquette” --  the main factor in unfriending someone.  

“They say not to talk about religion or politics at office parties and the same thing is true online,” ...

... said the study’s author, Christopher Sibona, a Ph.D. student in the school’s computer science and information systems program  

Like any cabinet or caucus, hierarchies exist in online behaviorism, the study found, with a perennial “unfriender” holding a higher social rank than a user who sends repeated friend requests -- up to a point, obviously. Getting rid of all your friends is not sensible social-media practice. Case in point: John Mayer's Twitter strategy

Reactions to being unfriended ranged from hurt or bemusement, with much depending on who did the unfriending, the study found.  With 500 million users online, Facebook is the most popular social-media website. Twitter last week finally usurped MySpace in the popularity stakes, with more than 170 million users. That’s a lot of friends to choose from.  

But just for a  bit of fun, we’re going to examine this study through the lens of a news-media personality and political commentator whose offline behavior not only got him fired from a major news network, but leaves an interesting question about what happens to social-media followers when this happens. 

We’re talking about Sanchez, who last week was removed from his anchor post at CNN over an impolitic remark aimed at Comedy Central presenter Jon Stewart and the “Northeastern liberal elite” who Sanchez claimed run the news media (including CNN). Sanchez has since apologized for his remarks.

Widely taken as a slur on Jews, Sanchez committed the social-media sin of telegraphing an out-there political viewpoint tinged with religion and race that many considered to be crude.  And let’s not get started on Sanchez’s “frequent, unimportant” tweeting.

So why does Rick Sanchez’s Twitter account still register more than 145,000 followers a week after he made his controversial statements? Well, true to the survey cited above, Sanchez made his remarks on an offline radio show forum (which just 27% considered a reason to unfriend). 

We also put it down to voyeurism (which after all is often the reason people sign up to social media to begin with).  A clutch of users are clearly waiting to see if Sanchez, who hasn’t tweeted since his firing, will use his heavily followed Twitter account to make amends. 

So what happens to Sanchez’s 145,000-plus followers if he doesn’t return?  Nothing, probably, apart from a whole lot of people unhappy at the prospect of being left in Sanchez’s dust.

Maybe Harry Truman’s famous maxim rings true even today: "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."

-- Craig Howie

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Photo: "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart." Credit: Comedy Central

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