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The top 10 topics on Facebook this year were gloomy

Rick Newman
Senior Columnist

If it seems like 2015 was a sad, disturbing year, Facebook agrees. Or rather, its 1.6 billion users agree.

Facebook’s annual list of the most discussed topics among its users skews to the dark side for 2015. In a break with previous years, none of the top 10 topics involved a sports event, celebrity baby or feel-good moment. War, natural disasters, racial tension and contentious politics dominate the list. Here are the top 10 topics of discussion on Facebook in 2015:

1. U.S. presidential election

2. Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris

3. Syrian civil war and refugee crisis

4. Nepal earthquake in April

5. Greek debt crisis

6. Marriage equality (related to the Supreme Court decision in June upholding the legality of gay marriage)

7. Fight against ISIS

8. Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in Paris on Jan. 7

9. Baltimore police protests

10. Charleston, S.C., shooting and Confederate flag debate

Just one of those topics can be construed as a positive or uplifting event: the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision (and even then, only for people who agree with it). In prior years, Facebook’s annual top 10 list has been lighter and cheerier. The 2014 list, for instance, included the Super Bowl, World Cup, and Winter Olympics, along with the “ice bucket challenge” meant to raise money for the disease ALS through the humorous and creative dumping of frigid water on celebrities and many others.

The 2013 list included the Harlem Shake dance fad, William and Kate’s royal baby, and the Tour de France. In 2012, the list included the Super Bowl, the Olympics, and Facebook’s own public stock offering.

There were no planned mega events such as the Olympics or World Cup in 2015, which left more room for geopolitical gloom among the top 10. Still, the gruesome rise of ISIS (aka the Islamic State), horrific terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States, and strained relations between cops and inner-city residents in many cities clearly have Americans in a glum mood. After a brief burst of optimism early in the year, the percentage of Americans saying the country is on the wrong track rose for most of 2015, despite an improving job market and declining unemployment rate.

The serious mood of Facebook users may also reflect the aging of the social-networking site itself. More older people have been signing on to Facebook as social media goes mainstream, and they may be driving the online conversation toward more serious topics. (An alternate, though implausible, theory, is that young people are getting more interested in serious news.)

Twitter users addressed many of the same heavy issues in 2015, but with a bit more pop culture mixed in. While Twitter’s top 10 topics this year included war, terrorism, and politics, Tweeters also swooned over soccer, marveled at a NASA fly-by of Pluto, and gawked over @Caitlyn_Jenner—who, among other things, set a new record for the fastest time to reach 1 million Twitter followers.

Beneath the grim headlines, there was plenty of pop culture on Facebook in 2015 as well. The top three entertainers were Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, and—in a humiliating third place behind Swift—Kanye West. Swift was in the top 10 last year, but Sheeran and West weren’t.

The top three TV shows discussed on Facebook this year were Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and The Daily Show. The first two are top 10 holdovers from last year. The Daily Show undoubtedly made it this year because of Jon Stewart’s departure and the end of the show’s run.

Now, a quiz: Try to guess Facebook’s most discussed political figures in 2015. Had Donald Trump been a presidential candidate all year long, he probably would have been No. 1. Instead, he’s No. 2, since we’ve only been digesting his bombastic pronouncements since June. That left President Obama in the No. 1 spot. No. 3 isn’t Ted Cruz or Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, but Dilma Rousseff, the embattled president of Brazil. That shows how Facebook’s user base has swelled beyond the U.S. and Europe into developing nations. Trump still has a chance to be the most-discussed politician in 2016, of course—and if he is, next year might turn out to be even wilder than this year.

Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.