O'Brien: Facebook turns into battleground during election season

Posted: Nov. 9, 2012 5:30 pm Updated: Dec. 22, 2012 12:15 am

Just when you thought it was safe to log back on to Facebook on Wednesday, it wasn't.

If you spend any time on the Internet at all, you're more likely than not to have a Facebook account. According to a 2011 study, 72 percent of online users in the U.S. were members of the social networking site, a number that I can only assume has since grown.

In the weeks leading up to Tuesday's election, Facebook was every bit of a battleground state as Florida or Ohio. Both the pro-Obama and pro-Romney backers made their views known. And they did so often.

There were three camps on Facebook leading up to Tuesday -- those who were talking politics, those who were complaining about people talking politics and those who sat there silently just waiting for the election season to pass so that we could get back to reading funny, made-up postcards and ignoring requests to play games.

I was in the last group. I don't mind a spirited debate on Facebook or Twitter, but when it comes to politics I try to remember two sayings. My father always told me never to talk religion or politics. I stick to that, too. Both topics can be very divisive, as we've seen over the last few weeks on the political front.

Then I remembered what an English teacher told me at Galesburg High School -- probably after I ranted about something stupid. She pulled out a great Abe Lincoln quote: "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."

Remembering those two things, I try to debate about things that I know and won't cause any hard feelings. Want to argue about the merits of the designated hitter in baseball? No problem. But if you want to talk about a fiscal cliff facing the U.S. now that President has been re-elected, you'll have to find someone else.

Or just go to Facebook. You'll find plenty of people ready to talk politics there. Even President Obama knows how to play to the crowd. For years, the first time we've heard from the president after a win is when he shows up on TV at his pep rally. Not this year. Obama made posts to his Facebook and Twitter feeds well in advance of showing off for the TV cameras.

That post became the most retweeted post in Twitter's history with more than 700,000 retweets. On Facebook, more than 3.5 million people liked it and a half million people shared the post, which included a photo of Obama and his wife, Michelle, hugging, on their timelines. Too bad Facebook doesn't have a dislike button, something users have clamored for a long time. It would have been interesting to see how many folks from the other side of the aisle would have chimed in.

According to Facebook, the election was the most talked about thing this year. On Election Day alone, Obama was mentioned 10 million times. From 11 p.m. to midnight, around the time he was proclaimed the winner, Obama was mentioned 4.1 million times, topping the 4 million mentions Mitt Romney got for the entire day.

I played it straight on my Facebook, mentioning each candidate once during the day. My Obama post had to do with him winning the Baldwin election and wondering how the kids voted on electrical aggregation. (I'm still waiting to find that out.) My Romney post was about whether any newspaper would use "Mitt Happens" as a headline. (Sadly, no one did, but the New York Daily News did use it back on Dec. 30, 2011, when Romney had a lead in the polls.)

And while we were all spared of any more political ads on TV after Tuesday, the bickering didn't stop on Facebook after the election was over. There seemed to be as many gloom and doom posts from Romney backers as there were celebratory messages by Obama supporters.

For at least one of my friends, it got to be too much.

"From this moment on, whoever bashes the president, I'm deleting you," she wrote. "Nothing can be changed now. Learn to support your leaders regardless of who they are and quit acting like a bunch of immature children or you're gone. Thanks."

Those are words we should all live by.