American Journal of Cultural Sociology

, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 385–421 | Cite as

Culture in mediated interaction: Political defriending on Facebook and the limits of networked individualism

  • Ori SchwarzEmail author
  • Guy Shani
Original Article


During the 2014 Gaza war, Facebook became a central arena for moral/political boundary work for Israeli users, resulting in unusually high rates of politically motivated tie dissolution. Cultural criteria were thus applied to restructure and symbolically cleanse social networks. We analyze Facebook’s visibility-structures, interview data, and public posts to explore this phenomenon. Studying Facebook interaction reveals cultural mechanisms used offline to sustain heterogeneous social networks and facilitate interaction despite differences – group style differentiation between circles, differential self-presentation, and constructing imagined homogeneity – whose employment is impeded by Facebook’s material design. This case of materiality-informed value homophily introduces materiality to the sociological understanding of the interrelations between culture and network structure. Interviewees reported dissolving ties following their shock and surprise at the political views and sacrilegious expression styles of their Facebook friends. We demonstrate that their shock and surprise derived from Facebook’s design, which converges life-spheres and social circles and thwarts segregation of interactions, group styles, and information. Rather than disembedding individuals from groups within the ‘networked-individualism,’ it makes individuals accountable for their statements towards all their social circles. In dramatic times, this collapse of segregation between life-spheres, affiliation circles, and group styles conjures Durkheimian sociability and symbolic cleansing despite commitment to pluralism.


boundary work facebook group style imagined homogeneity materiality political homophily 



We wish to thank Sagit Festman for research assistance; Nicholas A. John, Gadeer Nicola, and Kav LaOved–Worker’s Hotline for generously allowing us access to data; Lior Gelernter, Ido Yoav, and the AJCS anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts; and the interviewees for their helpful cooperation.


  1. Alexander, J.C. (2008) Iconic consciousness: The material feeling of meaning. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 103(1): 10–25.Google Scholar
  2. Barth, F. (1969) Ethnic Groups and Boundaries. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Co.Google Scholar
  3. Beck, P.A. (1991) Voters’ intermediation environments in the 1988 presidential contest. Public Opinion Quarterly 55(3): 371–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beer, D. (2009) Power through the Algorithm? Participatory web cultures and the technological unconscious. New Media & Society 11(6): 985–1002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bishop, B. (2009) The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing us Apart, Boston: Mariner.Google Scholar
  6. Blau, P.M. and Schwartz, J.E. (1984) Crosscutting Social Circles: Testing a Macrostructural Theory of Intergroup Relations. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  7. Boyd, D. 2014 It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked teens. New Haven, CT: Yale UP.Google Scholar
  8. Brubaker, R. (2004) Ethnicity Without Groups, Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brubaker, R., Feischmidt, M., Fox, J. and Grancea, L. (2006) Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity in a Transylvanian Town. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP.Google Scholar
  10. Bucher, T. (2012) A Technicity of attention: How software ‘Makes Sense’. Culture Machine 13: 1–23,
  11. Cahill, S.E. (1998) Toward a sociology of the person. Sociological Theory 16(2): 131–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Castells, M. (2011) Communication Power. Oxford: Oxford UP.Google Scholar
  13. Das, S., and Kramer, A. (2013) Self-censorship on Facebook. In Proceedings of ICWSM 120–127.Google Scholar
  14. Diani, M. (2000) Simmel to Rokkan and beyond: Towards a network theory of (new) social movements. European Journal of Social Theory 3(4): 387–406CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Earl, J., and Kimport, K. (2011) Digitally Enabled Social Change: Activism in the Internet Age. Cambridge: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Eliasoph, N. (1998) Avoiding Politics: How Americans Produce Apathy in Everyday Life. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Eliasoph, N. (1999) “Everyday Racism” in a culture of political avoidance: Civil society, speech, and taboo, Social Problems, 46(4): 479–502.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Eliasoph, N. and Lichterman, P. (2003) Culture in interaction. American Journal of Sociology 108(4): 735–794.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ellison, N., Steinfield, C. and Lampe, C. (2007) The benefits of Facebook “‘friends”: Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites, Journal of Computer-mediated Communication 12(4): 1143–1168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., and Lampe, C. (2011) Connection strategies: Social capital implications of Facebook-enabled communication practices. New Media & Society 13(6): 873–892.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Falah, R. (1996) Living together apart: Residential segregation in mixed Arab–Jewish cities in Israel, Urban Studies 33(6): 823–857.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Giddens, A. (1994) Risk, trust, reflexivity. In: U. Beck, A. Giddens and S. Lash (eds.) Reflexive Modernization. Cambridge: Polity, pp. 184–197.Google Scholar
  23. Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Anchor.Google Scholar
  24. Goffman, E. (1961) Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  25. Goffman E. (1982) Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior. New York: Pantheon.Google Scholar
  26. Hogan, B. (2010) The presentation of self in the age of social media: Distinguishing performances and exhibitions online. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society 30(6): 377–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Jenkins, R. (2008) Social Identity. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  28. Jerolmack, C. and S. Khan (2014) Talk is cheap: Ethnography and the attitudinal fallacy. Sociological Methods & Research 43(2): 178–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. John N. and Dvir-Gvirsman, S. (2015) ‘I don’t like you any more’: Facebook unfriending among israelis during the war of 2014. Journal of Communication 65(6): 953–974.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Knoke, David. 1990. Political Networks: The Structural Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Knorr Cetina, K. and Bruegger, U. (2002) Global microstructures: The virtual societies of financial markets. American Journal of Sociology 107(4): 905–950.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lamont, M. and Molnar, V. (2002) The study of boundaries in the social sciences. Annual Review of Sociology 28: 167–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lamont, M., Pendergrass, S. and Pachucki, M. (2015) Symbolic boundaries, in Wright, J (ed.) International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Oxford: Elsevier, pp. 850–855.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Latour, B. (1996) On interobjectivity. Mind, Culture and Activity 3(4): 228–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Latour, B. (2005) Reassembling the Social. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP.Google Scholar
  36. Lavie, R. (2014) In every war I lose friends, Haokets,כל-מלחמה-אני-מאבדת-חברות/.
  37. Lazarsfeld, P. and Merton, R. (1954) Friendship as a social process: A substantive and methodological analysis. In M. Berger, T. Abel, and C.H. Page (eds.) Freedom and Control in Modern Society, New York: Van Nostrand, pp. 18–66.Google Scholar
  38. Lewis, J. and West, A. (2009) ‘Friending’: London-based undergraduates’ experience of Facebook. New Media & Society 11(7): 1209–1229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Marchal E., Mellet, K. and Rieucau, G. (2007) Job board toolkits. Internet matchmaking and changes in job advertisements. Human Relations 60(7): 1091–1113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. McPherson, M., Smith-Lovin, L., and Cook, J.M. (2001) Birds of a feather: Homophily in social networks. Annual Review of Sociology 27: 415–444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Morey, A.C., Eveland, W.P. and Hutchens, M.J. (2012) The “who” matters: Types of interpersonal relationships and avoidance of political disagreement. Political Communication 29(1): 86–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Putnam, R. D. (2001) Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  43. Pachucki, M.A. and R.L. Breiger (2010) Cultural holes: Beyond relationality in social networks and culture. Annual Review of Sociology 36: 205–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rainie, L., and Smith, A. (2012) Social networking sites and politics,
  45. Rainie, L. and Wellman, B. (2012) Networked: The New Social Operating System. Cambridge, MA: MIT PressGoogle Scholar
  46. Schwarz, O. (2011) Who moved my conversation? Instant messaging, intertextuality, and new regimes of intimacy and truth, Media, Culture & Society 33(1): 71–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Schwarz, O. (2012) The new hunter gatherers: Making human interaction productive in the network society, Theory, Culture & Society 29(6): 78–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Scott, S.V. and Orlikowski, W.J. (2015) The Algorithm and the crowd: Considering the materiality of service innovation. MIS Quarterly 39(1): 201–216.Google Scholar
  49. Shehade-Switat, M. (2015) The influence of national identity of Arabs Israel on the emotion management strategies in ethnically mixed workplaces in Israel, unpublished MA thesis, Haifa University.Google Scholar
  50. Sibona, C. and Walczak. S. (2011) Unfriending on Facebook: Friend request and online/offline behavior analysis. In: HICSS, pp. 1–10.Google Scholar
  51. Simmel, G. (1910) How is society possible? American Journal of Sociology, 16(3): 372–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Simmel, G. (1950) The Sociology of Georg Simmel. Glencoe: Free Press.Google Scholar
  53. Simmel, G. (1955[1922]) Conflict and the Web of Group Affiliation. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  54. Smith G.W.G. (1989) Snapshots ‘sub specie aeternitatis’: Simmel, Goffman and Formal Sociology. Human Studies 12(1–2): 19–57.Google Scholar
  55. Smith, P. (2005) Why War? The Cultural Logic of Iraq, the Gulf War and Suez. Chicago: Chicago UP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Smith A. and Duggan, M. (2013) Online Dating & Relationships,
  57. Solove, D.J. (2007) The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet. New Haven: Yale UP.Google Scholar
  58. Swidler, A. (2003) Talk of Love: How Culture Matters. Chicago: Chicago UP.Google Scholar
  59. Sunstein, C.R. (2007) 2.0. Princeton: Princeton UP.Google Scholar
  60. Tavory, I. (2011) The question of moral action: A formalist position. Sociological Theory 29(4): 272–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Tavory, I. (2016) Summoned: Religious Life in an Orthodox Jewish Neighborhood, Chicago: Chicago UP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Thorson, K. (2013) Facing an uncertain reception: Young citizens and political interaction on Facebook. Information, Communication & Society 17(2): 203–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Vaisey, S. and Lizardo, O. (2010) can cultural worldviews influence network composition? Social Forces 88(4): 1595–1618.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. van den Berg, B. and Leenes, R.E. (2011) Keeping up appearances: Audience segregation in social network sites. In S. Gutwirth, Y. Poullet, P. de Hert and R. Leenes (Eds.) Computers, Privacy and Data Protection: An Element of Choice. Heidelberg: Springer, pp. 211–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Weininger, E. (2014) School choice in an urban setting. In A. Lareau and K. Goyette (Eds.), Choosing Homes, Choosing Schools, New York: Russell Sage, pp. 268–294.Google Scholar
  66. Wellman, B. (1999) Networks in the Global Village, Boulder, CO: Westview.Google Scholar
  67. Wellman, B. (2002) Little boxes, glocalization, and networked individualism. In M. Tanabe, P. van den Besselaar & T. Ishida (Eds.), Digital Cities II: Second Kyoto Workshop on Digital Cities. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer, pp. 10–25.Google Scholar
  68. Wimmer, A. (2008) The making and unmaking of ethnic boundaries. A multilevel process theory. American Journal of Sociology 113(4): 970–1022.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyBar-Ilan UniversityRamat-GanIsrael
  2. 2.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael

Personalised recommendations