Study: One in six Israelis cut ties with Facebook friends during Israel-Gaza conflict

The results indicated that age played an important factor in whether someone cut ties with Facebook friends, with younger users significantly more likely to unfriend someone.

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November 1, 2014 17:33
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Social media apps Twitter and Facebook [Illustrative]. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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The strain during Operation Protective Edge wasn’t limited to real life over the summer, when Jewish Israelis cut ties with Facebook friends, according to a study conducted at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Throughout the Gaza conflict, the Internet served as an important forum for discussion and debate among Israelis and their friends abroad, and one in six Israelis cut ties with Facebook friends during the war, the study found.

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Ten days after the final cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas, Dr. Nicholas John, an assistant professor and lecturer at the university’s communication department, conducted a survey of 1,013 Jewish Israeli Facebook users.

Among the survey’s respondents, 60 percent defined themselves as right-wing, 20% considered themselves at the center of the political spectrum, and 20% defined themselves as left-wing.

According to the findings, one in six respondents “unfriended” or “unfollowed” someone on Facebook during the conflict, with 50% of the “unfrienders” cutting contact with between one and three people.

Furthermore, 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.

The research helps to better understand the social processes taking place in the relatively new world of social media, John said.

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“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.

The results indicated that age played an important factor in whether someone cut ties with Facebook friends, with younger users significantly more likely to unfriend someone.

The intensity of a person’s political engagement 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-wing or right-wing, that predicted whether they ended a Facebook relationship.

The study found that 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.”

Through the findings of the survey, John was able to piece together a profile of the type of Jewish Israelis who unfriended others during the conflict: young, politically engaged people with strong political views, regardless of whether they held left-wing or right-wing views.

The unfrienders were most likely to drop people with whom they had weak ties, and the reasons they unfriended Facebook friends included taking offence at the content that someone posted, as well as simply disagreeing with it, the study found.

Somewhat surprisingly, Israelis in the South, who suffered the brunt of the rocket attacks, were not more likely to unfriend or unfollow Facebook friends, the study found.

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