An embarrassing video of a fourteen year old boy was put on social media by a fellow student, and the result wasn’t one that elicited empathy from his peers. Instead it resulted in constant bullying and ridicule for the ensuing two weeks that evidently led to his suicide.
This case and many others stand in accordance with what Keith O’Brien is referring to in his article titled “The Empathy Deficit.” He says, “Even as they become more connected [through social media], young people are caring less about others.” Why is this important? There seems to be evidence supporting a rise in narcissism that could be due to social media, resulting in much less empathic concern for others. A study from the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research found that “college students today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were in 1979, with the steepest decline coming in the last 10 years.” While the direct cause of this phenomenon is speculative, there is clearly a negative correlation to be drawn from this drop in empathy and the implementation of social media. Exposure to the plethora of daily news reports that are constantly published online may have desensitized people to the constant tragedies that occur, which make it more difficult to feel deeply for the abundance of them. This idea is clearly viewing social media’s impact on empathy in a much more macro way than that of the case in the previous video, but the underlying principles are still relevant: social media appears to be negating empathy, rather than eliciting it.
Author Mel Wiggins also weighs in with her experience via her article titled, “Social Media and The Empathy Deficit.” When the tragic attack on Paris left her speechless, others appeared to take to social media to post photos for attention. Wiggins decided to voice her opinion about it by saying, “…we should probably be lamenting the tragedy instead of uploading pictures of ourselves in Paris…” This statement caused many people to flare up, and take offense to her implied accusation of some people being less affected than others. It was at this time she realized that “social media does not have the capability to hold emotion well.” This idea that when emotions are high, statements don’t seem to translate their intended purpose well on social media. Soon after, a podcast aired that struck a cord with Wiggins, and validated her thoughts and emotions on the topic. A researcher named Sherry Turkle discussed the negative impacts technology and social media is having on empathy as part of the human condition. Much of the research shows clear signs that empathy is being reduced as we are more and more engulfed by social media. Wiggins concludes her article by revealing her own internal call-to-action. She lists the many changes she’s made to the ritualistic habits so many of us have fallen into, such as: having our phones with us at the dinner table, conversing too much via technology, being too connected to our online lives, etc. Wiggins’s personal experience is one countless people have endured, and continue to do so, with little thought of undergoing any sort of change. With narcissism on the rise, and empathy on a decline–is there even any wonder why Matthew Burdette didn’t stand a chance? However, there is light at the end of the tunnel if we act. O’Brien repeats what researcher Sara Konrath says, and that’s: “If empathy can go down, she said, it can also go up. It’s malleable” (ED). We just need to wake up, and “look up” (Gary Turk).
CBS This Morning. “San Diego teen commits suicide after bullying over embarrassing video.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 16 July 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZJvDhaSDnc. Web. 18 October 2016.
Gary Turk. “Look Up || Gary Turk – SPOKEN WORD.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 25 April 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7dLU6fk9QY. Web. 19 October 2016.
O’Brien, Keith. “The Empathy Deficit.” BostonGlobe, http://archive.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/10/17/the_empathy_deficit/?page=full. Accessed 18 October 2016.
Wiggins, Mel. “Social Media and the Empathy Deficit.” MelWiggins, http://www.melwiggins.com/2015/11/28/social-media-the-empathy-deficit/. Accessed 18 October 2016.