Social Media and Empathy

Social Media and Empathy

How our day-to-day scrolling has impacted our capacity to care – for better and for worse


Image: NY Times

The rise of social media is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, this large reach is supposed to incite more people to participate in aid projects and to empathize even with the farthest populations from their own location. On the other, empathy is revoked with the bombardment of information, which creates desensitization instead. One crisis disappears with the superimposition of the next one. And in worse cases, catastrophes at home are ignored or even backhanded.

Additionally, if social media allows for an easier access to connect with the entire world, it also disconnects people from their inner circles. Although reaching relatives at the far corner of the world is a new possibility, conversation with immediate family and friends is devalued by the consumption of lives of celebrities and even strangers made friends or lovers online. People are rendered less susceptible to their real-life relations because they can refresh their feeds and create new ties. 

Consequently, it is hard to decipher what goes on beyond the screen and who in fact is the person behind the screen. The lines of the real and the fake have never been as blurred before. How can we be our authentic self online when it doesn’t capture our essence, only ever glimpses of it? We decide what we want of ourselves online — thoughts, images, portfolios, and profiles — but sometimes we do not even decide for ourselves as others take the initiative to talk for us or tag us in photos and messages we don’t approve or want to be visible for the masses. The vulnerable exposure mixed with the anonymity of social media causes great mistrust.

Thus, if we can create and recreate ourselves online then so could everyone else, so could celebrities and the frameworks of the catastrophes presented to us around the globe.

As I mentioned, conversations on social media are open, hardly censored, and discursive, yet a lot of truths are sidetracked because we cannot tell truth from lies anymore. Think of meme culture. How serious have we ever taken irony? If cries for help are more readily heard on social media they are also as readily ignored. Hence, the translations between on and off screen vary too much, testing our boundaries between active caring and online nonchalance.

Going back to the influx of information, it is amplified with the variety of apps offered to us. If we cared and invested too much into every mishap or conversation produced on every platform, we would truly lose ourselves. Our attention span is already troublesome. A tab is always opened for us at work, at school, family dinners, at events, and even at the gym to name a few. We are ready for consumption constantly, refreshing without digesting, and sans discussing truly and analyzing content before absorbing some more. Of the 16 wakeful hours of our day, over half of our time is generally spent online and alert to social media — scrolling. 

If we are not aware and conscious of allowing screens to think for us, entertain us, deliver us all the news unfiltered as we believe it to bw (when it is not always the case), how could we empathize with the daily happenings of our lives and others around us?