A Social Media Taboo: Empathy

Whenever I watch a video on social media or come across an article that has gone viral, I scroll through the comments section immediately after watching/reading to see what everyone else is thinking.

This weekend, I watched two very different viral videos that my friends shared. The first one is a recording of a young mother on an American Airlines flight who is crying hysterically after allegedly being hit with a stroller by an irritated flight attendant.

Given what had just occurred with the United Airlines incident, I was very curious to read what people had to say about the mother.

I wasn’t at all surprised to see the amount of comments from people who were confidently sure that the woman on the plane was “fake-crying” to get attention from other passengers. We don’t see the flight attendant “hit” the woman with the stroller, all we get to see is the woman and a “heroic” passenger who feels compelled to confront the disgruntled flight attendant. Yet, the comments section was full of people, with psychic powers, ready to crucify the mother for “using” her tears to “get what she wanted.”

But, the comments I found at the bottom of the next viral video I viewed this weekend were downright disturbing.

This video also features a crying woman. However, this woman isn’t crying because she was hit by a stroller. She is crying because she had escaped North Korea at 13 years old after watching her mother get raped for trying to protect her from the rapist. In the video she states that her goal is to…”shed light on the darkest place in the world.”

One would think that a video like this would spark empathy from the group of “humans” who decided to watch the clip. There were plenty of emotional posts in response to the young woman’s story. Unfortunately, one too many of the comments were outright dismissals of her experience …

“fabricated,” paid actress, set up by the U.S., beware of propaganda, I’ve seen better acting in porn movies.”

People tend to doubt that which they don’t understand. Like Republicans dismissing science or denying climate change. I get it. Somewhat…

But is social media really helping us to feel more compassion about world wide atrocities like the gay concentration camps in Chechnya, or even ones in our nation like the Flint water crisis – BTW, which is still without safe drinking water – or is it just desensitizing us to the point where we question the very tragic experiences of others? Many Michigan state officials think the residents of Flint are actually exaggerating, and claim that the whole scandal is a hoax. Ugh, Republicans.

If we lose the ability to empathize with those whose experiences we don’t share, then how can we move forward with the progress we claim to want in our own divided country or for the world?

Like we said in class last week, social media has many benefits. Will it change the world for the better? I certainly think it has the potential. But we have to do something about the desensitization of our most developed societies. Empathy is as essential to our existence as is safe drinking water (I am looking at you, Bill Ballenger!) . Without empathy, we might as well be a country of soulless sociopaths, and if our country is a true reflection of the leaders we put into office, then we might already be deficient.

 

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One Response to A Social Media Taboo: Empathy

  1. sydhavely says:

    This is really a profound post and commentary on not only social media but human behavior. I watched news accounts of the AA episode yesterday (specifically on CNN) and they didn’t show the tape you included but they did have legal analysts pontificating on motives and “facts” and even blame and fault. Without the tape, versus the UA episode, I was clueless. After watching the tape in your post it appeared (“appeared” is the operative word) that the man in the two-tone golf shirt was posturing in a way that seemed inappropriate (again, “inappropriate” is used subjectively because I wasn’t there). The North Korean girl, as you say, is talking about something far, far more egregious and serious whose account is worthy of serious thought and response.

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