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Toronto mayoral candidate Rob Ford arrives at a Mississauga banquet hall on Sept. 19, 2010. (Tim Fraser/Tim Fraser for The Globe and Mail)
Toronto mayoral candidate Rob Ford arrives at a Mississauga banquet hall on Sept. 19, 2010. (Tim Fraser/Tim Fraser for The Globe and Mail)

After the mayoral election, 'friends' no more Add to ...

Elaisha Stokes is a documentary filmmaker, a progressive downtown type, and none too shy about her opinions at that.

All the same, after Rob Ford was elected mayor, she watched in dismay as her Facebook feed bubbled over with the none-too-savoury complaints the Internet seems to specialize in.

"Just arrived in Rob Ford's Toronto. I could vomit my respect for taxpayers all over the place," wrote one Facebook friend.

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"The worst was his victory photo in a Hawaiian lei, grinning... at first I was like, why is there a picture of… [an]oaf on the front cover of the newspaper," wrote another.

None of this rubbed Ms. Stokes the right way, even though she's not exactly a Ford booster. So she fired back: "I hope it's not four years of Ford-hating status updates, because I'm bored already," she posted.

"You might want to block me then," replied a friend, "because I intend to keep caring about issues that might not be entertaining status updates."

And without further ado, Ms. Stokes was unfriended.

It was a small drama, but, by many accounts, one that played itself out across the city this week.

Friends with divergent political views have awkwardly mingled for as long as there's been friendship and politics (by all accounts, a while). But in 2010, friendship comes with Facebook, and politics comes with Rob Ford. In a city that the mayor-elect neatly divided along downtown-suburban lines, the crowded online conversation is already proving too close for comfort.

Growing lists of contacts mean even mild acquaintances can shout into each others' ears online, and now people are cutting ties - or being unexpectedly cut off themselves.

"The left's rhetoric surrounding Ford was the same as the right's rhetoric about Obama, and it drives me mad," says Peter Cianfarani, a comedian who says he voted for both Bob Rae and Mike Harris. "It was just incessant. It was constant."

In the end, Mr. Cianfarani wound up unfriending two people for incessant anti-Ford comments. (In the best Facebook tradition, he says he never really knew them anyway.)

But nothing brings out online trolls like politics, and the election forced regular Facebook users to act like discussion-board moderators, pruning comments and cutting off access to the unruly.

For Scott Dagostino, a freelance writer who contributes to Fab and Xtra, the breaking point came when a Ford supporter became personally abusive in his proselytizing efforts, "posting what read like insanity on my Facebook page."

Some of the offending notes raged against "[city councillor]Kyle Rae and his left-whores-wing base" and fulminated against the "infestation" of transsexual prostitutes, which the poster called "vermin."

In the end, Mr. Dagostino didn't unfriend the poster, but he did cut off his ability to post notes.

Mr. Dagostino says he's glad to have a politically diverse group of online friends, even if it meant seeing his feed fill up with the rhetoric of "Rob Ford as some kind of folk hero."

"I think people are a little braver on Facebook than in person," he says. "People will say things on a Facebook post that they'd never say to a person's face."

Julie Penner, a musician who lives in Joe Pantalone's former ward, took to hiding - or essentially muting - Facebook friends who got too impassioned about the notion of voting with one's heart.

"There are people who normally I'd never hide because they have really interesting things to say, who I hid because they got too sanctimonious for me," she says.

All of which raises questions about whether Facebook is the right medium for political commentary in the first place. Ms. Penner, for one, says she reserves most of her own political commentary for Twitter, a less intimate, more public medium.

As for Ms. Stokes, most telling was the realization that Toronto elected Rob Ford with almost 50 per cent of the vote - yet her own news feed was full of "rabid, bubbling-at-the-mouth hatred" of the man.

"We really self-select," she says. "I've learned a couple things: One, not everyone gets what Facebook is. Two, I need to broaden my social network."

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