Losing friends over politics is an inevitability of Facebook and many other social networks. Religion, too, but that’s a discussion for another article. Someone you know, whether well or sparingly or because of blood relation, posts something that goes against your own partisan beliefs, and then you get pissed off and hide them or block them or start a never-ending comment battle rife with misspellings that neither of you can win.
“We’ve seen studies and surveys of people on Facebook and other social networks saying they’ve lost friends or they’ve gotten rid of friends because of espousing political views on the social network,” says Jonathan Hoffman, the COO and co-founder of Solitical.com, a new politically focused social network started by five South Carolina natives. A few years ago, Hoffman left Washington, D.C. for Charleston, where he’s now in the reserve JAG at the Air Force Base and teaching at the Citadel. “For someone who moved down here from out of state, it’s very difficult to engage in local politics, to know who’s doing what, this board versus that, city versus county, and 90 percent of the media focuses on national and presidential politics,” he says. “Because of that, it seems like there is a lack of an ability for individuals to effect change in their own communities.” Solitical was created in part to alleviate that problem, while at the same time connecting users with people in their communities who share the same views.
“We’re not trying to be a political Facebook, we’re trying to be the face of politics,” Hoffman says. “We believe that there is a market out there for a social network that is focused on politics and is. … You can still have your Facebook and you can go look at pictures of babies and pictures of what your friends had for lunch. I love Facebook and I think it’s great for knowing what people are up to in their lives, but it’s not a good tool for knowing what people are up to politically.”
Solitical is in its very early stages, having only launched about a month ago. When a user signs up for the site, they’ll plug in their zip code, and Solitical will direct them to profiles for their local politicians. Currently, the website has created profiles for all elected officials in the 10 most populous cities and counties in every state, as well as for the 500 largest cities and counties in the country. These profiles are created using primary sources, from news articles to FEC filings, though currently voting and financial records have not been incorporated. Hoffman stresses that it is a non-partisan website.
Regular members also have the opportunity to create profiles for local candidates in elections, or elected officials who aren’t yet available on the website. When a Solitical member adds information, the website will vet and check the data to ensure accuracy. Additionally, officials can create personal profiles in addition to the ones provided by the website. “One thing that’s different is that on Facebook, the elected official has a page that they control,” Hoffman says. As he points out, if, for example, Gov. Nikki Haley wanted to, she could delete negative comments from her Facebook page — something she has done. “On our site, we have a page that we control that has info about the elected official. They also can have their own page, but we want to really have a discussion … we want to make sure that if you have something to say that is critical, you have a forum to say it.”
Users can also search for groups that fit their specific ideals, or they can create their own, like “Journalists for Guns,” for example. The website also provides tools that aren’t readily available on other sites. Groups can share a calendar and conduct online debates. And he Solitical Pulse, a platform for a Twitter metric, lets members see who is being talked about, whether positively or negatively (Hoffman points out that Nikki Haley makes it on the governor’s list pretty regularly.)
Like any social network, in order to be successful, Solitical needs members, and they need to engage with other members. Solitical doesn’t want to create its content; they want their users to. They’re also hoping to attract active members of the community — like the couple of regular folks who attended every single city council meeting, for example — and have them give updates on local politics in the fashion of community journalism.
For now, the Solitical team is waiting until after the election to refine their product. In the meantime, new users are joining every day.