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Yes, It’s OK to Take a Facebook Break When You’re Overwhelmed by Politics

Young woman using cell phone to send text message on social network at night. Closeup of hands with computer laptop in background

I’m stressed out beyond belief.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, I’m not alone—half or more of America feels the same way. The rapid-fire pace of the president’s Executive Orders and the Bachelor-style Supreme Court Justice nomination, to play off “Dayenu,” would have been enough—but on top of all that, many of us believe our country and Constitution are suffering grievous blows every single day from which they may never recover.

Facebook is a wonderful place to connect, and as such, is a wonderful place for political and social activists. So is Twitter. However, all it takes these days is for me to be on Facebook for more than 10 minutes—and then my heart starts beating faster, I start sweating, and I begin to feel either a profound headache or the sense that my head will actually explode. Facebook has Gone Political, as suddenly, many people seem to have realized that yes, this stuff going on in Washington DC actually matters (welcome!).

In a piece called, “Facebook Dead at 12, A Victim of 2016,” Bethany Mandel writes, “If all you’re using Facebook for is to yell into the digital void about politics, you will find your audience for such rants is getting smaller by the minute. Sorry, random friends from all walks of life: I just don’t care what you think about Donald Trump today. I hoped the tone would improve post-election, but with the inauguration and every statement or story out of the Trump administration, the hysteria remains at a fevered pitch. And I’m sick of it.”

I find her piece unduly negative; I still view Facebook as our modern equivalent of the town square. And I do actually care what my friends think—much more than I care about their amazing cappuccino maker, to be honest. But the problem is obvious: When everyone brings a megaphone to the town square and starts yelling, things get unpleasant real quick.

On the one hand, how nice your life must be if not seeing little kids’ pictures as frequently in your feed anymore makes you feel genuine stress or angst! Think, by comparison, of the life of an American green card holder who no longer knows if she can return to America after seeing her family in their homeland. One stress outweighs the other, for sure.

However, Facebook’s omnipresence—how we click on it as unthinkingly as we push our hair behind our ear—means that the constant yelling can lead to a constant veil of anxiety that descends over real life, rendering joys comparatively mute. At least, it has led to that for me.

Anyone who is my Facebook friend knows: I love Facebook. As someone who works from home, Facebook is my way of connecting with the outside world. As someone home with young kids, Facebook is my way of connecting with polysyllabic adults with whom I like discussing ideas. Trust me: As someone who was a parent to young kids pre-Facebook and post-Facebook, the post-Facebook world is a lot less isolating and lonely. For an extrovert—especially one who procrastinates—Facebook is a virtual treasure.

However, the price we pay for its omnipresence is high. As a former lawyer and journalist, I have a near-insatiable interest in politics. Facebook seems to be involved in an experiment to test whether, in fact, it is insatiable, by feeding it to me like a goose being prepared to be foie gras.

I have long held a theory that Facebook is our best hope in going forward, because if we can communicate our positions effectively to our friends, maybe we stand a chance of improving discourse and empathy.

I still hope that that is, or could be, the case, even as so many of my “friends” are blocking each other, and undoubtedly me (which is basically the socially acceptable equivalent of covering your ears with your hands and yelling “BLAH BLAH I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” but without the other person knowing that you’re doing it).

It’s disheartening, though, that when I try to discuss politics in private messages with people with whom I disagree, they either don’t respond or they say inappropriate things that show me that we were never as good friends as I thought we were in the first place.

In some ways, Facebook has become a front row seat to America—both the scary nouveau authoritarian tendencies and the positive “don’t worry, we got your back” part. It is extraordinarily anxiety-producing.

So I guess the moral of the story is, “No one ever said it was gonna be easy.” But also, no one ever said it was going to be constant. I have never gone on a food cleanse (my caffeine addiction precludes such adventures), but I have found a Facebook cleanse every now and then is good for the soul. It allows you to come back refreshed, revived, and ready to keep reaching out.

It is not on us to finish the work, but neither are we free to desist from it.


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