How to tune out your politically sanctimonious friends on Facebook (UPDATED)

Summary:It's an election year, and Facebook is alive with all sorts of requests to share annoying negative political posts and graphics. You don't want to de-friend your buddies, but the noise is intolerable. Here's how to mute most of it.

crappy-posts-NO
I love my Facebook friends. I do, I really do. Many of my Facebook friends are people who I've had real or virtual relationships with for over a decade, some even much longer.

But just because I am friends with many people and we have common interests doesn't mean we agree on everything.  And nothing gets more contentious on Facebook than when you start seeing endless streams of stuff -- be it rants or pictures -- that you don't agree with, or even worse makes your blood pressure rise to dangerous levels and just plain upsets you.

The political situation right now in the United States is incredibly divisive, and I've seen people lose real friendships over political discussions. In fact, it happened to me very recently.

A friend who I would consider a very close acquaintance of over ten years -- who my wife and I have dined with on many occasions, and have several mutual friends with --defriended me on Facebook and now refuses to correspond with me via email because I told him I will probably vote for a different political candidate than he will. 

It all started because he made a Facebook post about a political subject, and I was stupid enough to engage in a heated conversation with him on his post about it. I thought it was spirited discourse, he was insulted.

I don't want this to happen again, and quite frankly, I'm getting a bit annoyed by the huge volume of political material for and against both sides of the fence -- Democrat and Republican and all shades in-between and to the extremes, that it's actually ruining my Facebook experience.

Frankly I wish Facebook had some way to filter out this kind of stuff and tag posts being of a political nature (or of any nature, really) but they don't have this kind of technology.

Fortunately you can take matters into your own hands.

In the original version of this post I suggested using a browser plugin called Unbaby.me which was originally designed to filter out posts about babies. I tried adapting it to political topics and the software turns out to be flaky, and I am not even sure it is 100 percent effective doing what it was designed to do.

But I found a much better solution, and it is called Socialfixer.

socialfixerlogo

Go to the Socialfixer web site and install it on your browser -- they support Google Chrome, Firefox and Apple Safari. Unfortunately at this time Internet Explorer isn't supported, but they're working on it.

After installing Socialfixer on your browser, go to Facebook. You'll notice that Socialfixer has reformatted your view a bit, that's one of the things the software does, which is the ability to tweak a lot of visual stuff.

At the upper right of the screen, you'll see a wrench next to your Facebook avatar as shown below. Click it, and choose "Social Fixer Options"

facebook-socialfix-wrench

After the Socialfixer configuration screen comes up, click on the Filtering menu on the left.

socialfixer-createfilter

In the text box where it says "Other" I want you to cut and paste in the following text string:

/politic|Mitt|Romney|Barack|Obama|Ryan|Biden|Democrat|Republican|RNC|DNC|Tea Party|Convention|Right-Wing|Left-Wing|Liberal|Conservative|Religious Right|Red State|Blue State|Senate|Congress|GOP|MoveOn\.org|Reagan|Hate Crime|neocon|fascist|Rush Limbaugh|Bill O'Reilly|Bill Maher|Jon Stewart|Daily Show|Colbert|Sean Hannity|candidate|FOX News|Senator|Representative|Sen\.|Rep\.|President/i

It has to be pasted exactly like that, using the leading and trailing slashes and the "i" at the end, or it won't work. The "i" by the way stands for case insensitive, so it doesn't matter how the filtered keyword is capitalized.

UPDATE 9/01/2012: A Tech Broiler reader provided an updated version of the regex above, which corrects some wildcard issues that were causing non-political posts to be filtered by mistake.

This is called a regular expression, or a "regex" in computer programming. If you actually want to see stuff that uses some of these terms on your main feed, then you need to take them out between the pipe symbols separating each term or keyword.

I've chosen to nuke everything I can think of that could have political content on it, on both sides of the spectrum.

After you paste in the text for the regex, go to the Action column, enable the checkbox for Move to tab and then type in Political Posts in the text field directly under it.

Hit Save (on the top of the screen) and then refresh your Facebook page. You'll see something that looks like this:

facebook-filtered

Cool, right? All that junk that you don't want to see has been moved over to the Political Posts tab. If you want to check to see if your friends have actually posted something worth reading, then you can click on that tab and all the posts which matched the regex will be in there.

By default Socialfixer only caches a small amount of posts at a time. So you might want to go into the configuration menu, choose the Popular tab on the very top, find Auto-click "Older Posts" and put in a number like 8, and enable the checkbox.

Keep in mind the more posts you want to pull in at a time, the harder the plugin has to work, and the longer it takes to refresh your Facebook feed with the filtered posts.

Now, this method isn't foolproof. Some posts are going to inevitably escape the filter because they might just be graphics with no introductory text or keywords to trigger it.

If something gets through and it has an identifyable keyword that isn't in the filter's vocabulary, go back into Socialfixer and the Filtering menu and add it to the list on the regex, using pipe characters to separate them. It may require additional refinement over time.

But stuff without keywords is still going to fall through the cracks in your news feed. That's a limitation of the technology. You can just plain tolerate it and look the other way, or if you have friends that are constantly posting this kind of crap, simply click in their profile, and on the top right hand side of the screen, click on Friends.  

friendsbox

See where Show in News Feed there's a check box? Uncheck it. The friend will no longer appear in your main Facebook news feed anymore. They can interact with your posts and shared content using the permissions you've allowed friends to do, but to see their posts, you'll have to go directly into their profile.

It's a bit severe, I know, but it's better than actually de-friending someone, which should be considered a last resort. 

Have you had to filter out your friends because they are going too political? Talk Back and Let Me Know. 

Topics: After Hours, Social Enterprise

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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