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Dumping a friend who isn’t like you can increase social inequality


Since the 2016 presidential election news accounts And Research have illustrated how unfriending, a term originally associated with dropping Facebook friends, reverberates in our wider, offline social lives. And what may seem like a simple decision to break up a difficult relationship can actually increase divisions in society.

If social scientists WHO study social networkswe wanted to look at unfriending beyond social media and the internet, especially as the US approaches what is likely to be another controversial presidential election.

Some relationships are difficult to sustain due to conflicts, disagreements, life changes, or busy schedules. Those things make unfriending practical and reasonable. After all, the breaking of social ties is not new. The practice probably already exists as long as relationships exist. But we wondered if relationships across racial, political, or religious boundaries are more at risk of breaking down during highly charged political times than other relationships.

Newly available data, collected from residents of Northern California between April 2015 and May 2017, gave us a chance to look at relationships during a critical turning point in the United States. The study — consisting of 1,159 respondents — was a representative sample of the six counties that make up the San Francisco Bay Area. Researchers measured whether ties were family or non-family, close or not close, difficult or not difficult.

Two friends celebrate completing a half marathon. A new study suggests more people in California have ended interracial friendships since the 2016 presidential election.
Photo by Mindy Schauer/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

Break interracial ties

When analyzing the data we found that people were 2.5 times more likely to break interracial friendship ties, which are often weaker than same-race ties, after the 2016 presidential election. We also found that participants were 2.3 times more likely to break ties with people of a different religion to break. Importantly, a subset of study participants, the 21- to 30-year-olds, were nearly twice as likely to have weaker ties dropped across the political divide due to disagreements.

In other words, people separated themselvesand younger people in particular distanced themselves from exposure to people who were different from them.

In practice, unfriending can range from silent ghost images old friends to more overt acts, such as Dilbert creator Scott Adams’ racist diatribe urging white Americans to unfriend black Americans.

American history is replete with examples of people who were excluded from certain segments of society because of race, politics or religion. But voluntary segregation is different, and social scientists didn’t start it formally measure its size across the country until 1985 General social researcha biennial, nationally representative survey of the attitudes and behaviors of American adults.

Our findings from California point to how defriending plays out in a specific state.

Vulnerable weak ties

A clear conclusion from our research is that people drop out earlier weaker bands for people who are different from them, to drop strong family ties. In other words, they weren’t willing to cut off the uncle who says offensive things under his breath at every family gathering, but they did easily shut down casual acquaintances from the gym or grocery store.

Despite their apparent fragility, weak bonds – which can vary from the relationships developed during short, water cooler conversations at work to connections forged through interactions with strangers during the daily commute – are critical to our lives.

They create job opportunitiesease social mobility and promote welfare.

Weak tires are also possible stimulate creativity and innovation and lead to new opportunities across social boundaries defined by race, politics and religion. An example of this is the new BFF relationship between actors Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis. Although they had been acquaintances for a long time, they had never worked together until recently. The chance to work together led to a much closer relationship and a few Oscar wins.

Male and female clergy of different religions hold candles.
After the 2016 presidential election, fewer people in Northern California were interested in participating in rallies like this interfaith protest.
Scott Varley/Digital First Media/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images

The price of insularity

Regardless of how it happens, when people separate into groups that resemble or think like them, it has a significant impact on society. In addition to the loss of resources such as job opportunities controlled by someone they used to be associated with can make people lose opportunities building successful, inclusive political coalitions. Others may not recognize the challenges faced by people in another group. And because of the inability to understand someone else’s problems, people can be less willing to help.

These imbalances have long been difficult to reconcile, as the pioneering sociologist WEB Du Bois pointed out in 1903. He famously drew attention to “the problem of the color linein American life. Radical for the time, he researched race relations and social interactions, shows how race is symbolically and physically divided the country. This perspective resonates contemporary racial differences in American lifeas how black Americans are expected to navigate white social spaces and that black and white workers think in different ways about inequality and economic security.

Segregation then, now and in the future

Some of the most horrifying eras in American history have occurred when a dominant group failed to recognize a common humanity. For example, remnants of slavery lingered Jim Crow Laws. And remnants of Jim Crow are present in our system of mass incarcerationdescribed by lawyer and author Michelle Alexander a system of racial social control that affects black men disproportionately.

Even though modern American social segregation now stems from a mix of voluntary choices to unfriend and residential segregation by race And classcan the net result be the same as forced segregation.

Indeed, social boundaries can lead to inequalities throughout the population segregation leads to differential opportunities for different groups. This inequalities are unjust, to be avoided and it turns out to be very difficult to get rid of it.

Fewer intergroup connections allow meaningful political conversation more challenging when neither group has a meaningful understanding of, or is willing to engage with, the perspectives of another group.

Self-separation through defriending deprives us of the opportunity to learn from differences and discover similarities.

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