Are there political opinions you would end a friendship over? Most of us probably have friends who don’t vote for the same party we do. It’s certainly possible to have different opinions on political issues and stay friends. But what if there are really fundamental differences of opinion? Are there some topics where you would draw a line? Are some differences of opinion irreconcilable?
Is there a risk we all get stuck in our own filter bubbles? When you end friendships with people who think differently, you are no longer confronted with different opinions. This can make it more difficult to question your own opinions and make you even more convinced you are right, possibly even pushing you to take more extreme positions. This phenomenon is known as the “echo chamber” problem, and it is particularly obvious online on social media.
What do our readers think? We had a comment from the aptly-named Love, who argues: “Different opinions are not the problem. Problems only arise when discussions escalate and become personal. “
To get a response, we put Love’s comment to two politicians from different parties. First, we spoke to Terry Reitke, an MEP from the European Greens and a member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. How would she answer Love?
I can be friends with people who represent different political opinions, and I find it really valuable to do so because politicians should try and see things from different perspectives. Personally, it highlights for me that not everything is simple. But I would say that there are people who represent extremist racist, homophobic positions, and I think there you have to draw lines. Of course, you can have different gray areas with friends, but basically if people are really very determined and convinced, for example taking racist positions, then this line has been crossed for me.
Next up, we put Love’s comment to Philipp Amthor, a member of the German Bundestag for the Christian Democrats and a member of the committees on Internal Affairs and on European Union Affairs. Can he be friends with someone who holds very different political opinions?
Yes, I can also be friends with someone who holds different political opinions. That applies both to me as a politician and to me as a private person. Politically, the first thing you do in parliament is to fight for your convictions within your parliamentary group. But there are also good, collegial relationships with colleagues from other parties. Especially when I think of the Liberals, they are very close to us. But even with some of the Green Party members, there is definitely reasonable interaction, reasonable overlaps.
It’s the same in my private life. As you can imagine, as a politician, I am quite happy when I don’t also have to talk about politics in my private life all day long. In any case, I do not ask about the party affiliation of my friends or with whomever I have a conversation. I do apply one limitation in that other convictions I accept must be based on the foundations of our constitution. Politically as well as personally, I struggle with those who accept extremists – from the left or right spectrum – in their ranks.
We also had a comment sent in from James, who thinks social media is partly to blame for increasing polarisation. He argues that “media (and social media) constantly hype unusual news stories, making it seem like threats and dangers are all around us (a dynamic which populists play into). Plus, the ‘echo chambers’ built by social media algorithms again intensify everything.”
How does Terry Reintke see it?
Yes, James, I agree… I believe that it is incredibly important that we also have direct exchanges outside of our close circles to encounter different perspectives on things. Social media brings many benefits, but at the same time there is still an urgent need for exchanges beyond that, so we have to create spaces, especially for politics, so that people have these opportunities.
What does Philipp Amthor think? What role (if any) does he believe social media plays in the polarisation of society?
We have to keep in mind that social networks are first and foremost – and for the vast majority of people –for entertainment, private exchange and private use. But, they are also increasingly used for information, and we have to keep that in mind. Especially in political debates, social networks overcome the metaphorical gatekeeper function of traditional media. That means there is a direct communication of opinion leaders and the population without a classifying voice from the media. Some may see that as participative progress. Perhaps it is, but it also bears risks.
The classifying gatekeeper function of classical media is not a tool to suppress information but rather to contextualize it. Therefore, it is up to all of us to oppose and fact-check falsities in political debates. This applies to the classical world as well as to social media. For decades, during debates in Germany and Europe, if some argument went over the top or out of bounds, some classifying voice was usually physically present at the proverbial “Stammtisch” to oppose and highlight the falsity of that statement. We need those voices also in our social media.
Can you stay friends with someone with opposing political views? Are there political opinions you would end a friendship over? Are we running the risk of getting stuck in our own filter bubbles? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!