Who Dumped Me? A Profile Emerges of Facebook ‘Unfrienders’ During Israel-Gaza Conflict | האוניברסיטה העברית בירושלים | The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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Who Dumped Me? A Profile Emerges of Facebook ‘Unfrienders’ During Israel-Gaza Conflict

30/10/2014

Age and political engagement predicted cutting ties, but living in the rocket-battered south didn’t

New research conducted at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem paints a picture of the Jewish Israelis who cut ties with their Facebook friends during the recent Israel-Gaza conflict. Dubbed “Operation Protective Edge” in Israel, the fighting began in early July 2014 and lasted about seven weeks. With the Internet serving as an important forum for discussion and debate among Israelis, the conflict presented an opportunity to investigate the emerging role of social media in Israel, and how people create echo chambers and filter out content they don’t want to hear.

Ten days after the final cease fire between Israel and Gaza, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Dr. Nicholas John conducted a survey of 1,013 Jewish Israeli Facebook users. John is an Assistant Professor and Lecturer in the Hebrew University’s Department of Communication.

Among the survey respondents, 60% defined themselves as right-wing, 20% considered themselves in the center, and 20% defined themselves as left-wing, consistent with Israel Democracy Institute figures.

Overall, Jewish Israelis’ activity on Facebook during Operation Protective Edge was more political than in the 12 months leading up to it. While nearly half the subjects said they did not post content related to the conflict with Gaza at all, 6.4% said they posted such content “a great deal.”

Furthermore, John found that 1 in 6 respondents unfriended or unfollowed someone during the conflict, with 50% of the “unfrienders” cutting contact with between 1 and 3 people.  

Age played an important role in whether someone cut ties with others on Facebook, with younger users significantly more likely to unfriend someone. John suspects this is because for younger people, a Facebook profile is a more integral part of their identity.

The intensity of a person’s political engagement both on and off Facebook was also found to be predictive of unfriending. The more left-wing or right-wing respondents considered themselves, the more likely they were to unfriend someone. However it was their distance from the political center, and not whether they were left- or right- wing, that predicted whether they ended a Facebook relationship.

Because people unfriend those they disagree with, and there are more right-wing than left-wing Jewish Israelis on Facebook, those on the left stood a greater chance of being unfriended.

From this research, a profile emerged of the kind of Jewish Israelis who unfriended others during the conflict: young, politically engaged people with strong political views, regardless of whether those views were left-wing or right-wing. These unfrienders were most likely to drop people with whom they had weak ties, and the reasons they unfriended included taking offence at the content that someone posted, and simply disagreeing with their content.

Surprisingly, people from Israel’s south, which suffered the most rocket attacks during the conflict, were not more likely to unfriend or unfollow someone.

Interestingly, 25% of those surveyed thought of unfriending or unfollowing someone on Facebook, but ultimately chose not to. Only 3.4% of respondents thought they themselves had been unfriended, and of those people, 70% didn’t care.

According to Dr. John, this research helps us understand the social processes taking place in the relatively new world of social media. “It shows that unfriending on Facebook is quite a new phenomenon through which people create homogeneous media environments or ‘echo chambers,’ filtering out content that either offends them, that they disagree with, or that they don’t want to be associated with,” he said. 

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Who Dumped Me? A Profile Emerges of Facebook ‘Unfrienders’ During Israel-Gaza Conflict