Is Social media really Destroying our Capacity for Accurate Empathy?

Empathy is arguably one of our most important attributes as humans, it allows us to communicate and interact successfully in society. More and more of our interactions are becoming virtual so it is important that we have an understanding of the effect social media has empathy.

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Johnny Cook’s Post

 

In May of 2013, Johnny Cook posted this on Facebook after his interaction with a young boy who uses the bus service he used to work for. Cook’s post received a large amount of likes, comments, and shares from parents and individuals who empathized with the child as well as people who shared the same sentiments as Johnny Cook. After this post received attention on social media Johnny was called to speak to his superintended where he was given an ultimatum, “essentially recant and apologize or be fired” (cbs46.com). Cook claimed in an interview with CBS46 that “I felt like in my heart of hearts the kid was telling the truth. Whether he was or whether he wasn’t, I believed him. So I was not going to recant the story” (cbs46.com). As a result of this, Cook lost his job. Cook posted the fact that he lost his job on Facebook notifying everyone who had an interest in his story that his Facebook post cost him his job. This post received over 150, 000 shares on Facebook in one day (cbs46.com). In his interview, Cook said that in addition to the support from Facebook users he received phone calls from parents who could identify with the story of the little boy because their children have also received the same kind of treatment at their schools. Information from his interview does not mention whether or not he got his job back but it does emphasize the fact that Cook’s posts went viral. The article does mention that after his dismissal an online partition was made for people to sign in “support of Cook getting his job back” (cbs46.com).

Cook’s experience demonstrates that empathy can be created through social. P.J. Manney claims in her article, Is Technology Destroying Empathy?, that social media is a “morally neutral” instrument which can either be constructive or destructive and that is contingent on the intent when it is used (livescience.com). Her main argument is that, “to understand the power of communications technology, we must embrace the paradox: It will both destroy and create empathy” (Manney, livescience.com). In the case of Cook, empathy was created in the public that supported him and made a partition for him. However, one could argue whether or not the empathy they experienced was accurate because they did not have enough information on the case to warrant accurate empathy. It could be argued that Cook’s supported had enough information to create a genuine empathic response.

Manney states that empathy is created when “we discover the things we share” (livescience.com). This definition clearly corresponds with Cook’s case, most people share his sentiments. To the best of our ability we should ensure that children get meals at school, regardless of their financial ability. This is the reason why empathy was created in the public after reading his post. In Manney’s definition of the creation of empathy, we can clearly identify the shortcoming of the creation of empathy (in social media). Essentially if you do not “share” anything with the individual who is posting on social media you cannot empathize with them, creating in-group bias. She claims that social media highlights in group bias because in this form of communication individuals “read and watch their own thoughts repeated in recursive echo chambers of increasingly radical and exclusionary thought” (Manney, livescience.com). This makes contradicting views foreign to you consequently destroying empathy.

More often than not, social media should create empathy because as a human race have more in common than we have differences. And because we share more than we fail to understand about each other, social media should not destroy our capacity for accurate empathy. Like in the case of Cook. Manney makes this argument

P.J. Manney also considers the instances when social media creates empathy and uses those instances as valid reasoning to argue that social media can also create empathy. This is based on the notion that empathy is created when we discover the things we share and as a human race we have more in common than we have differences. For instance, the majority of the human race share the same fundamental principles, such as the support for equal rights for women. Manney uses the examples of same-sex marriages in the West and the role social media played in raising awareness which was successful because of empathy. Manney also speaks about the murders in Charleston and how social media created empathy. The conclusion she draws from these examples is that more often than not we all have the ability to relate to one another because of the various fundamental values and ideologies we all share.

Cook’s Facebook post is an example that created empathy as well as destroyed it according to Manney’s reasoning. This is because Cook’s expression and his view are one that most parents share, which allowed for the creation of empathy in parents and the general public. In the same manner, Cook’s post destroyed empathy in his supervisors because to them the good name of the school as well as their company was being tarnished by Cook’s Facebook post. His employer values their reputation more than the principle Cook’s post speaks to, and it is for this reason that his employer could not empathize with Cook or the little boy. This example shows the limitation of empathy as well as illustrating how technology can both create and destroy empathy depending on the audience and how the message is translated or understood.

Image reference

Johnny Cook’s post, imagehttps://www.google.com/search?q=facebook+post+bus+driver16 Oct. 2016

Work Cited

Meredith Corporation. “Bus Driver Loses Job after Facebook Post about Student”. N.p., 31 May 2013, http://www.cbs46.com/story/22473174/bus-driver-loses-job-after-facebook-post Accessed 16 Oct. 2016

Manney, P.J. “Is Technology Destroying Empathy? – Live Science.” N.p., 30 June 2015. Web. 17 Oct. 2016

2 thoughts on “Is Social media really Destroying our Capacity for Accurate Empathy?

  1. The case of Cook and the little boy on the bus is a wonderful example of the masses rallying behind a worthy cause. Siphelele mentions in her blog that while Cook’s post caused many people to empathize with himself and the boy, it also alienated his supervisor and perhaps many others at the school. The source that I cited in my article discussed how social media and the internet does not diminish the capacity for empathy in the real world, but because the internet is so alien, it also does not require basic human practices to be utilized while surfing the net. While over 100,000 people shared Cook’s post, how many actually did something about it? This, to me, brings up the idea that social media has become something of a scapegoat. In other words, it leads people to believe that they have done their part simply by sharing a status or posting something of their own on the topic. This takes away from the social responsibility to actually do something about important issues like drastically underfunded public schools. While a child should never go hungry, we also have no idea the circumstances the school was under at that time. Perhaps rather than posting our hearts out in moral outrage, people should log off of Facebook and Twitter and take up a real cause. Remember that the man being crucified (the superintendent) and the teachers and faculty at that school all make less than a garbage man.

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