Clinton-Sanders battle stirs passionate Facebook debate

Greg Nash

The Democratic primary fight between Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonO’Keefe files FEC complaint against Clinton camp, DNC Another Bush family member not voting for Trump WATCH LIVE: Trump speaks at first event since charity roast MORE and Bernie SandersBernie SandersDeplorable debate reminds voters of third party options Michelle Obama: Trump 'humiliates women as if we’re objects' Overnight Healthcare: Obama confronts health law's 'growing pains' | Sanders slams leukemia drug price hike MORE is spilling over to Facebook, where supporters of both candidates are engaged in a passionate debate over who should be the party’s standard-bearer this fall.

Fans of Clinton and Sanders are waging a battle for the hearts and minds of their colleagues, friends and relatives as the Democratic primary turns from the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire to contests across the country.

 Mike Webb, a chief marketing officer in Honolulu who supports Sanders, recently posted a story about Clinton from The Nation titled “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote.”

While Webb, who is African-American, noted in his Facebook post that the story didn’t “let Bernie off the hook either,” another message came through: African-American friends should give a second look to Sanders.

Sanders supporters are also letting people know they aren’t all under 30.

Janel Myers, who lives in New Hampshire, said in a post to a Facebook group for Sanders backers that her husband had just cast his first vote for a Democrat for Sanders.

“We're not all [millennials] — there are plenty of us GenX Bernie supporters, too,” she said. The post was shared more than 480 times.

"There are so many FB users over 40 and that is a demographic that Hillary and Republicans do well in — so I see it as an invaluable platform for sharing and education," said Myers said in a Facebook message.

Clinton supporters have pushed back at those touting Sanders, arguing on Facebook that some of the attacks leveled against the former secretary of State, first lady and senator are unfair.

“There’s definitely more passion on the Sanders side, or proselytization or whatever,” said Kurtis Scaletta, 47, who works for a non-profit in Minneapolis. (Minnesota voters hold caucuses on March 1, and it’s a state Sanders is targeting.)

“I kind of just wanted to say, you know, I’m not on the Sanders’s bandwagon,” he said. “Hillary Clinton’s not that bad.”

Scaletta recently plugged a Medium post on Facebook entitled “The Case for Hillary.”

“Yep, here's another one,” he wrote. “I'm that guy now.”

Statistics suggest Sanders may have a home-field advantage over Clinton on Facebook.

The company recently revealed that he has about three times the number of “likes” as Clinton on the social media platform. His youthful supporters have also used social media and a hashtag — #feelthebern — to build momentum for his campaign.

Facebook’s own numbers back up the idea that the primary fight is heating up online.

According to data provided by the company, 264,900 unique people in South Carolina talked about Clinton in the 30 days leading up to February 15 — two weeks before the state’s primary.

Sanders generated interactions — what Facebook calls likes, comments, shares and posts — from 186,200 unique people.

It’s not clear whether all of this activity is positive, or course.

Comments, shares and posts can also reflect negative attitudes about a candidate. And in the case of Clinton, a polarizing figure on the right, it’s likely some negative comments are being included.

Either way, the chatter eclipses the Republican field — with the notable exception of Donald TrumpDonald TrumpPeter Thiel bet on Trump, but the tech titan still comes out a winner O’Keefe files FEC complaint against Clinton camp, DNC Another Bush family member not voting for Trump MORE.

The Facebook battle has at times turned ugly.

Some have complained that male supporters of Sanders have a habit of harassing Clinton supporters in online forums.

This month, Sanders himself said of aggressive behavior by his supporters online, “It”s disgusting. We don’t want that crap.”

Clinton supporters have also used Facebook to push back against the aggressiveness of Sanders voters — as well as the attacks leveled against her by the right wing.

“To the extent that there is a way to make people aware of why their perceptions or their biases may be informed by the sort of millions of dollars that the Koch Brothers and their ilk have spent on this vilification campaign, I think it’s just incumbent as a citizen to make those points,” said Bogdan Tereshchenko, 31, a law student in Chicago who supports Clinton.

“The one troubling thing about this campaign is the sort of virulence of the anti-Hillary sentiment among some Bernie supporters,” he said, noting that he hoped some his posts provided a counterpoint to what Sanders backers might be hearing elsewhere online.

Whether messages on Facebook can convince many people to back a candidate remains open to dispute, however.

Webb, 51, cited a friend of his who held extreme views about President Obama’s character that he found difficult to stomach.

“When you hear that stuff, and find that stuff out about a person, it’s kind of disappointing,” he said.

He rarely uses Facebook to discuss politics, instead opting to use Twitter for those conversations — his recent post was a rarity. Facebook, he says, doesn’t usually lead to productive dialogue.

“If the comments on Facebook were about policy or if they were less general and more specific, I would love to engage,” he said. “But they tend to be on the extreme side of things.”