People tend to associate with others with whom they share various attributes (typically, socioeconomic and demographic). It would seem to follow that they also interact with people that share the same opinion on political and philosophical issues. Apparently, people only think their friends share their views.
A recent paper by scholars working in Yahoo! Research looked at the extent to which friends on Facebook could accurately predict the degree to which their friends (placed on a continuum of strong to weak ties) agreed with them on various political issues. The results:
We found that when friends disagree on a political issue, they are unaware of that disagreement about 60% of the time. Even close friends who discuss politics are typically unaware of their differences in opinions.
On the one hand, the result doesn’t surprise me all that much since political issues are arguably the most sensitive topic amongst friends and family and people tend to adjust their actions in order to fit into a socially-expected perception of who they are. However, I would have guessed that people who interact on Facebook would be more likely than a control group to accurately predict the degree of agreement with friends. For one, the platform is built to allow people to share their thoughts on any topic, so it provides a window into people’s feelings that face to face interaction may not. Also, people tend to be less inhibited when there is physical distance between themselves and their interlocutors, so you would assume that topics that may be uncomfortable to discuss in person will be discussed on Facebook for all to see. That makes the finding even more interesting for me.