When You Cannot Expect Empathy

While social media can be a useful tool for people to express their ideas, it can also be dangerous. According to a Pew Research Report referenced in Suren Ramasubbu’s Expecting Empathy on the Internet, “Eighty eight percent of social media-using teens have witnessed other people being cruel on social network sites.” This clearly demonstrates that many people are not afraid to express themselves when they are behind a computer screen. This issue has led to many people posting unwarranted things on social media that has ultimately led to their demise, both on their online profiles and in their real lives. There are many documented cases of this phenomenon, such as Lilly Workneh’s documentation of the social media case of Zach Davis, a former Ohio cop.


In April of 2015, Davis tweeted extremely racist comments equating the black men and women in Baltimore to the apes in Planet of the Apes, completely dehumanizing the black community.

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-9-54-04-pm screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-9-52-56-pm

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-9-53-16-pmWhile he seemed to avoid much of the public slander that other social media disasters like Justine Sacco received for their tweets, Davis did get fired from his job as a result of his public comments, so the real life implications of his tweets are very real and severe.

In many cases, one should be able to empathize with people who post the wrong thing at the time because the person did a bad job conveying humor. However, with Zach Davis’s tweets, Davis “did not believe that his comments were racist” (Workneh). Not to mention, Davis could not have chosen a worse time to joke about the killings in Baltimore than right after they were happening when Davis made these tweets. Because of this, this specific instance of social media atrocity transcends the boundaries of simply being a social media mistake and becomes an heinous act of intolerance. Additionally, it is nearly impossible for anyone to empathize with a man who is accepting of his own bigotry and ignorant of it.


According to Suren Ramasubbu and his article in the Huffington Post, Expecting Empathy on the Internet http://www.huffingtonpost.com/suren-ramasubbu/expecting-empathy-on-the-internet_b_7737962.html, empathy is already starting to drop due to the social isolation that comes with people spending more time behind a computer screen so in a case where a man is not even willing to admit he is wrong, it is quite difficult to empathize with Zach Davis. As unfortunate as it was for Davis to lose his job over social media, the fact that he still backed his decision to post the tweet makes it very difficult for anyone to empathize with him. It would have been one thing if Davis owned up to his mistake and apologized but according to the county sheriff at the time, Gene Kelly, he did not see the “insensitivity, hostility, and maliciousness” (Workneh) that most everyone else did.


There are many examples of cases, such as Justine Sacco’s case, where people are over criticized for their wrongdoing on social media. Sacco made a joke about white supremacy that, while it wasn’t funny, actually had a purpose to point out the flaw in people’s thinking. Furthermore, she apologized for the tweet as soon as she realized it was negatively affecting people. People continued to slash her falsely claiming that she was “over privileged” (Ronson). In these such cases, it is perfectly appropriate to empathize with Sacco, and Ramasubbu would agree with this. In the case of Zach Davis, however, social media was simply a reminder to people that if you say something uncalled for, there are consequences you will have to deal with. While in Davis’s case, these consequences were not people constantly bashing at him, he does lose his job, and for the people who have heard about this case, most will see him in a bad light for not justifying or qualifying his actions. It is difficult for people to respect and understand the motive behind how he handled his tweets. As a result, it is difficult for people to empathize with him because he does not really apologize for his actions that hurt many people. While there certainly was some reason Davis posted these tweets and maybe some people can empathize him for making a mistake, but ultimately it is quite difficult for the average person to wrap his or her head around Zach Davis’s tweet, and therefore empathize with him.

Works Cited:

Ramasubbu, Suren. Expecting Empathy on the Internet. The Huffington Post. 7 July 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/suren-ramasubbu/expecting-empathy-on-the-internet_b_7737962.html. 18 October 2016. Web.
Workneh, Lilly. Ohio Sheriff’s Deputy Fired Over Racist Tweets Comparing Baltimore Protesters To ‘Planet Of The Apes’. The Huffington Post. 27 May 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/27/officer-racist-tweets-ape_n_7453458.html. 18 October 2016. Web.

141 thoughts on “When You Cannot Expect Empathy

  1. I found it interesting that your article, Expecting Empathy On The Internet, came to virtually the complete opposite conclusion that mine did. Having said this, they both made the distinction between real-world, affective empathy and virtual empathy. To me, this is justification enough to assert that there is a distinction between empathy felt through the Internet and empathy felt in real-life situations. Virtual empathy, however, does not apply much to the case your brought up (this isn’t a bad thing, you do a great job of making this clear in your post). Zach Davis made an ignorant and stupid comment, and although I do not condone public humiliation and shaming, one could reason that with the current climate of social media, he dug himself into his own hole. A person can be brutal, and the weight of an entire community of users can destroy one’s life. Davis is lucky that his situation did not blow up.

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