When friendships and politics collide in the age of social media

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ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

IT is almost an unsaid rule to shield friendships from the disruptive and divisive effects of politics.

You simply do not talk about politics when you are with friends, unless you share the same opinions about issues.

The surest way to ruin a dinner, or a high school reunion, is when you have contentious debates over divisive issues. It is one thing to argue about which brand of car is better, or which character in “Game of Thrones” is the least evil. But friendships are bound to be ruined when dinner dates or afternoon coffee succumb to a heated argument about President Duterte’s drug war. And worse, if the arguments descend to ad hominem attacks about compromised principles, and about being supportive of murder.

I have tried to keep faith with the tenet of valuing friendships over politics, and tried to avoid engaging friends about political issues. And if we are indeed friends we would know which issues would divide us.


The age of social media made it possible for us to post our thoughts, and our takes on controversial and divisive issues. Thus, one has to carefully navigate how to deal with friends whose posts in social media do not coincide with our political positions.

One of the cardinal rules which I adhere to is simply to ignore the differences. I never engage a friend publicly, and on the rare occasions that I do so, I am careful not to use words that will surely offend, or can be misconstrued as an attack.

In fact, I have made it a rule not to comment on other people’s posts in their threads, even if they are not friends, unless it is to correct a wrong statement, to clarify, or to ask for a clarification.

You simply do not call out a friend in public by frontally accusing him or her of committing logical fallacies, or of painting their arguments as ridiculous and insensitive. You just avoid making comments about their political views, and focus on keeping the friendships.

After all, one must be made fully aware that the bonds that have linked you and your friends are most likely rooted in your commonalities – common interests, common experiences and common hobbies – rather than in your differences.

More often than not, friendships are decoupled from politics more so that in this world there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests. In fact, the popular image of a politician is one whose smile is pasted on the face, shaking hands just with anyone, even enemies, and making idle talk with people they just have stabbed in the back minutes ago. There is no sincerity, and authenticity is in short supply.

However, some friendships are born from common political interests and ideologies. Like-minded people join social movements or groups, or are involved in activities, to advance issues they all commonly hold close to their hearts.

And it is when one friend takes a position which is different, or is inconsistent with the established and expected political stance associated with the social movement or group, that friendships are tested.

There have perhaps been hundreds, if not thousands of friendships that have been tested when someone who has been involved in social development work, or in human rights advocacy and women’s issues, turns out to be a Duterte supporter.

I personally lost many friendships when I became a supporter of the President. I have been unfollowed, unfriended, even blocked by people with whom I cultivated affinity from my earlier work in advancing social, environmental and gender issues.

Actually, I do not mind people who do this, without the fanfare and the noise. I would quietly respect their choices of putting our political differences above our friendship.

But what I cannot take is when people you consider as friends openly engage you in social media. They defy the norm of avoiding confrontations in real time, by transgressing such norm in the virtual world of the Internet, that some of them end up even trolling you.

But they do not even have to be offensive of the cursing kind in order to diminish the friendly bonds. Frontal attacks through social media posts and comments, attacking your arguments, or worse making it appear that you have changed for the worse, are simply akin to spoiling a friendly dinner. It is not asking too much that friends should simply respect political differences, and if that is not possible, for them to make the conversation friendly and respectful.

One of my best friends who I will not name epitomizes this kind of friendship. She doesn’t critically comment on my political views, but only on the manner that I make them. And this she does privately, in person, face to face, like real friends do.

In short, her concern is not our disagreements. Her concern is to remind me not to be disagreeable. She is not focusing on my politics, but on my personal conduct, which are what friends are for. She is the kind of friend that is worth more than a million gold bars. Her friendship is one of those you need to keep, for they are priceless.

In the end, reading social media posts and comments, and responding to them, is a matter of choice. There are certain posts that one needs to engage, and others to ignore. The moment I sense that a friend’s post is something which I strongly disagree with, I simply skip and ignore. I do not comment.

But what I cannot ignore is when someone that I call a friend posts a public commentary in my thread that disrupts the bond. I consider this as an assault and a transgression, and not just a friendly reminder.

Friends like these are not worth keeping. They are the ones worth losing, unfriending, or even blocking.

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