Facebook doesn’t make us happier, especially when 63 percent of Americans consult it for news on an election that features the least popular candidates since the advent of scientific polling. But while Facebook is a symptom of America’s collective political fatigue, the platform can cure it as well, by encouraging users to increase their political activity in their local communities.
The Pew Research Center performed a series of polls that showed Americans increasingly use Facebook as a news source and political platform. This increase in usage comes at a cost: The Happiness Research Institute found too much Facebook has a negative impact on our happiness.
In its “The Facebook Experiment” in 2015, the Institute randomly chose 1,095 Danes to evaluate their lives and their use of Facebook. Unsurprisingly, 94 percent reported visiting Facebook as a daily routine. Of the 94 percent of Danes on Facebook, 86 percent reported browsing their news feed often and 78 percent reported spending 30 minutes or more on the site every day. Researchers asked one half of the participants to quit using Facebook for one week and reevaluate their lives.
People who abstained from the social media platform for one week reported feeling happier, more decisive, more enthusiastic, more satisfied with their social lives, less worried, less stressed, less angry, less depressed and less lonely. This is good news, especially for the 62 – 66 percent of Americans whom Gallup reports are dissatisfied with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
So it seems like posting and interacting with statuses, photos, videos and articles don’t make us happy. That’s because Facebook doesn’t allow us to practice politics, which also involves human interaction in a local context.
One of the first things we learn at Hillsdale is that we are political animals: human beings who thrive in geographically limited communities knit together with human interaction. But Facebook has changed the rules. It has expanded the scope of our world and demanded us to care about people, places and things way outside of our social situation while simultaneously stripping us of real human interaction. When we do Facebook politics, the actions are shallow: posting, reacting, commenting and sharing. It’s no wonder Facebook leaves us feeling less decisive, less enthusiastic and lonelier. We aren’t truly fulfilling the human component of politics, which is much richer than a political stance online.
The good news is you don’t have to cut out Facebook completely — just make sure it deepens, rather than replaces, your community interaction. The Pew Research Center found that intensive Facebook users, particularly those participating in specific groups, are more likely to attend political meetings and rallies. Hillsdale Hot Debates, Overheard at Hillsdale College, Vanished Hillsdale and the Hillsdale Collegian are all active Facebook pages that can help you connect with students and townspeople, stay up-to-date on town issues and deepen your relationship with the community — in short, they can help you interact with and change local politics.
The sign change has unified students with townspeople by forcing us students to reevaluate what makes our community special. “It’s the people” reminds us that politics is about a sense of duty to place and to the people who inhabit it. Because politics is more than just your opinion on Trump, Clinton and America’s future, and your polis is more than just your news feed.
Kroeker is a senior studying French and journalism.