Blog 5: Do People Really Deserve All This Backlash?

In the summer of 2009, teacher Ashley Payne posted the following picture to her Facebook, which she claimed had the highest privacy settings on, during her vacation to Europe.

Costly: Ashley Payne, 24, posed for this picture while travelling around Europe in the summer of 2009. It was later spotted on her Facebook page

But somehow an anonymous parent discovered this and reported the activity to the school’s head teacher’s office, where Ashley was called shortly afterwards. She didn’t understand what was going on, but the principal then offered her an ultimatum: resign from her position or be suspended. Her behavior on her account, which “contained profanity” (which would be one use of the B word) and “promoted alcohol use”, according to school officials, was unacceptable (TSFP). The author of Teacher sacked for posting picture of herself holding glass of wine and mug of beer on Facebook opened the article with “With a pint of beer in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, the worst thing you could accuse Ashley Payne of is mixing her drink” (TSFP). The author suggests that this unfortunate circumstance that Ashley Payne found herself in was unjustified and not what she deserved. They later go on to quote Ashley’s lawyer, since she was in “a bitter legal battle” after her resignation, where he uses the example of seeing your teacher having a drink with dinner at a restaurant with their partner (TSFP). No teacher would get fired for this behavior for any reason, and yet because Ashley shared pictures of this behavior and supposedly promoted it, officials at her school were offended.

Empathy is both present and lacking in Ashley Payne’s situation, and seems to be split into two ‘sides’. One side includes the anonymous mailer who reported Ashley’s account, as well as the school officials involved in forcing her to resign. This group is clearly lacking empathy for Ashley, and they were more focused on the example she was setting for her students, especially since she was a high school teacher and the pressure to get involved with alcohol is particularly high among this age group. However, from experience I know that most teachers don’t allow students to view their social media accounts until after graduation, and this should make sense because of Ashley’s claim that she had high privacy settings on her account. None of her students should have been able to see this. This is an opinion held by the group that does empathize with Ashley, made up mostly of retrospective viewers that see how ridiculous the situation was. She didn’t deserve to lose her job over something so arbitrary, especially since she is a legal adult that was on vacation. These conflict between these two groups arose from the initial social media post by Ashley, and subsequent action taken on social media for this to be reported. This is yet another instance where the audience of social media attacks posters ruthlessly and without consideration for consequences. The person who reported this was most likely astonished that this teacher could be posting something that seemed so offensive, and I’m sure they were happy that she wouldn’t be teaching their children anymore, but they had no regard for her life after this was over. She had to deal with so many legal issues and problems attempting to get her job back, or even a new one, but for someone online who is just responding to the immediate threat to their children’s education, this is all irrelevant.

The author of the article makes it clear that they are part of the group that empathizes with Ashley and the situation she was forced into when she didn’t deserve it. I agree with this stance, as I think the standard forced on her was inappropriate, and they should have cut her some slack. Instead, she was forced to resign from the job she loved because of the barrier that social media creates between an attacker and a victim that destroys any chance of empathy.

Works Cited:

Daily Mail Reporter. “Teacher Sacked for Posting Picture of Herself Holding Glass of Wine and Mug of Beer on Facebook.” Daily Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 07 Feb. 2011. Web. 02 Nov. 2016.

Social Media and Our Growing Empathic Abilities

Having grown up in the digital age, I cannot imagine a world without social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat- these are all digital social networks I use on a daily basis; they are a medium, through which I can connect with those who are not physically present at the time.

There is a lot of buzz about the effects of social media use on society. We, as humans, are social creatures and our views on social media use vary widely. For example, cultural analyst Sherry Turkle believes that we have taken social media use way too far, saying in her TED talk “Connected, but Alone?” (see below) that it is leading to “pretend empathy”, and that “we expect more from technology and less from each other” (Turkle). On the other hand, Elizabeth Tenety writes for the Washington Post that “social media may contribute to the social good” and that social media allows for “new ways to show our empathy” (Tenety).

Both valid arguments, however, I have to agree more with Tenety because what she wrote aligns much more with what I have actually experienced through social media use. Take the 2015 Paris terror attacks for example. In the event of such a terrible crisis, people from all over the world came together to show their support for Paris. A glimpse of this is shown in a video put together by BBC News. Like never before, we are in the loop about what is going on in our world. Although I was not in Paris during the time of the attacks, I was able to involve myself and show support through social media use. On Facebook, I was able to change my profile picture temporarily to show support for Paris, on twitter I could share hashtags, such as #Prayers4Paris, and on Instagram I could share photographs and caption them with similar hashtags to raise awareness and show my support. Without social media, I would have been out of the loop.

Tenety describes this awareness of all things-good and bad- going on in our world as our extended social network and notes that with bigger social networks, comes more social responsibility. She also notes that this added social responsibility could be helping us become better friends and it is empowering us to make a difference in the world (Tenet). Although some may argue that showing support through social media does not make a real difference, I argue that the effects may be indirect, but overall having people in the loop more than ever before can only lead to more overall good. Not everyone is expected to stop their lives completely in the face of a crisis half-way across the world. Social media allows us to do something, rather than nothing at all, and exposing us to what is actually happening allows us to build our empathic abilities.

Another way social media helps build empathy is through crowd funding. Even if I am unable to spend my time volunteering, I can donate money and share links to donation pages so others can donate as well. We see more and more examples of people going through personal hardships and it is easier than ever before to empathize and do something about it. In a year long study of trust and empathy in project success, even when the goal was not met through crowd funding the “overwhelming generosity of the people who did fund projects was usually reported as surprising and moving for the people who ran the campaigns” (“A Taxonomy of…”). It may even be easier to reach out for help on social media for some people. The app Instagram even came out with a new feature that lets you anonymously and without confrontation report a post when you feel like someone is crying out for help, and Instagram will offer support to that person.

Social media is a tool for humans made by humans, therefore we can fine-tune it to help build our empathy on a larger scale. Already, we can show support and raise awareness through social media, as we have seen during the Paris terror attacks last year, and everyday advancements are being made to help us help each other more and more. We are forming connections we would have never had the chance to in the past, with people we may have never crossed paths with if it were not for social media. We are exposed to a wider range of unique individuals, and this exposure helps us empathize better with different and more people.

Works Cited

“A Taxonomy of UK Crowdfunding and Examination of the Potential of Trust and Empathy in Project Success.” EMoTICON Network. WordPress, 06 June 2016. Web. 01 Nov. 2016.

Connected, but Alone? Prod. TED2012. Perf. Sherry Turkle. TED. TED Conferences, LLC, Feb. 2012. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.

Tenety, Elizabeth. “The Digital World Is Warmer than You Think. Here’s How Social Media Builds Empathy.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 24 Feb. 2015. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.

Turkle, Sherry. “Transcript of “Connected, but Alone?”” TED. TED Conferences, LLC, Apr. 2012. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.

Thompson, Marcus. “Paris Attacks: Social Media Response.” BBC News. BBC News, 15 Nov. 2015. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.



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, 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. 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. 18 October 2016. Web.

The Damage Social Media Does on Empathy

People of all ages are trying to learn and understand the etiquette of social media, as a fast growing platform in our society there is no one there to tell everyone the right way to behave. New things go viral every day, and the trending lists on the various social media platforms perpetuate them. Some of these things are promoting positive change, while others are attacking people or companies around the world. The big question is how is our ability to empathize is effected by social media. While I believe that social media can do amazing things in fighting a common cause or connecting us with people around the world, I believe that it can also cause a lapse in empathy.

16-year-old Phoebe Cannop

16-year-old Phoebe Cannop

About a month ago I was scrolling through my facebook when I saw this story that my friend had shared. It was about a teenage girl, Phoebe Connop, who took her own life out of fear of being attacked on social media for a picture she sent to friends in a private message. She was sixteen. In the photo she darkened her skin and covered her head with a scarf and sent it with a caption saying that this was the only way her new boyfriends parents were going to accept her. The photo was taken from the chat and shared on social media. After it received some negative attention she feared being deemed a racist and took her own life (Matthews).

This is a very extreme case of something that unfortunately happens too often on social media. Personally I have been witness to more than my fair share of facebook fights and social media shaming’s, fortunately, none of which have lead to such tragic outcomes. However, witnessing it regularly makes you wonder why people are so unable or unwilling to empathize with people on the internet. P.J. Manney discuses in her article things like compassion fatigue, confirmation bias, and our willingness to demonize the “out group” limit our ability to empathize on social media platforms.

The average time spent on social media rises to 1.72 hours.

The average time spent on social media 1.72 hours.

Compassion fatigue explains the phenomena where people are constantly bombarded with tragic stories and eventually get emotionally worn out. Even before social media this was a problem. Such as with the Columbine shooting, in his book, Dave Cullen describes how one news columnist cited that the victims families were “milking” the tragedy, the bigger shock was from the response of the readers who agreed with him, “‘All of us are sick and tired of the continued whining,’ a reader responded,” (Cullen, 300). And that was in 1999, before social media existed. Now people spend, on average, 1.72 hours on social media per day (Mander). In that time between the status updates and photos that friends post timelines are filled with tragic stories from across the world. We feel compassion fatigue with wars overseas, tragedies at home, and other awful things that occur in the world around us. We see the same thing over and over, and eventually lose the ability to empathize. We have to distance ourselves from the tragedies for self-preservation, to not allow the stories to compromise our own emotional well-being.

“When people see something disagreeable on social media they are ready to label the person, who they likely don’t know, as an other, as a racist, a sexist, or a bigot.”

Another limitation of empathy created by social media is confirmation bias. In this instance, confirmation bias refers to people only exposing themselves to “their own thoughts repeated in recursive echo chambers of increasingly radical and exclusionary thought” (Manney). In this way we are able to understand and empathize with the people who agree with us but when it comes to people who disagree or the “out-group” we find ourselves unable to empathize, and all too able to demonize. In the example of Phoebe Connop, she feared that she was going to be labeled a racist, as she had probably seen done before on social media. The negative attention that the post received from people who didn’t know her, and even some people who did, ultimately lead her to kill herself. When people see something disagreeable on social media they are ready to label the person, who they likely don’t know, as an other, as a racist, a sexist, or a bigot. The moral superiority that they feel to this “other” makes it easier to go on the attack. After all the person on the other side of the computer,  is just this screen name with the one trait that they have deemed them to have. Not seeing the whole person and the good parts of them causes an inability to empathize with their intentions, their mistakes, or their humanity.

I feel that while there are many benefits to a world that is constantly connected by social media, it can lead to problems in our ability to empathize if we are not careful with how we use it. It is important that we as a society examine how we react to and behave on social media to try and prevent anything like what happened to Phoebe Cannop from happening again.

Works Cited

Cullen, David. Columbine. New York: Twelve, 2010. Print.

Mander, Jason. “Daily Time Spent on Social Networks Rises to 1.72 Hours.” N.p., 26 Jan. 2015. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.

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

Matthews, Alex. “Halesowen Teen Took Own Life after Fearing She’s Be Called …” Daily N.p., 28 Aug. 2016. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.



Fashion Faux Pas

Kenneth Cole Footwear

Social media is a powerful tool where the words of one person can reach the screens of millions. Depending on the statement posted this can lead to a great feeling of empathy within the audience or great lash back on the poster due to a poorly received message. The latter was what effected Justine Sacco in “God That Was Awesome”. It is also what effected Kenneth Cole and many others who tried to make a joke that was received very poorly.

In 2013, fashion designer Kenneth Cole tweeted a message that was very poorly received. He tweeted “‘Boots on the ground’ or not, let’s not forget about sandals, pumps and loafers. #Footwear” in response to the potential intervention of the United States in the war in Syria. This was a poorly made joke and many people responded with calling Kenneth Cole insensitive. Cole has also made many other tweets over the years that people have dubbed insensitive. Some of these include “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online… -KC” (in 2011) and “Regardless of the right to bear arms, we in no way condone the right to bare feet.” (in response to debates on right to bear arms). Cole has said that his tweets advertise his product along with making people more aware of current world issues. Many of his tweets are viewed as insensitive by the public though.

Can these social media sites actually be decreasing your ability to empathize?

It can be argued that empathy in people has decreased due to the implementation of technology. A study from the University of Michigan showed that over thirty years empathy has decreased in college students by forty percent, and the sharpest drop was after 2000 when the use of technology significantly picked up (Belani). Belani says that components of empathy can be traced back to different parts of digital culture. The most useful part of her argument is the effect of social media on affective understanding. She argues that the basis of affective understanding lies in non verbal cues. In social media posts there are no non verbal cues. This makes it much easier for someone to misinterpret an online post. While joking a person may smile and laugh making it obvious that they are not being serious. Online, none of these cues exist and a sarcastic joke may be taken as a serious and insulting comment. Another important point Belani makes is the effect of social media on emotion-contagion. She states that this is how people begin to feel how other people around them feel. Anger is highly communicable over social media posts and this leads to “outrage culture”. This is exemplified when a celebrity says something that is taken the wrong way and their post is shared many times. These two types of empathy that are disappearing can account for much of the overreaction to posts on social media.

In the case of Kenneth Cole the lack of affective understanding and emotion-contagion are what lead his post to become so viral due to outrage. No one could see his facial expression to tell that he was joking. Although it can be inferred from the context that this post was a joke it is still different reading it on a screen instead of seeing his emotions as he said it. The most important part to this post going viral and the level of outrage it inspired is due to emotional-contagion. When one person saw this and shared it it showed many other people their opinion. When people see the anger one person feels, they often feel it to and reshare the post. Thus, it is the lack of person-on-person interaction that causes the phenomenon of the lack of empathy for certain social media posts.

Works Cited:

Belani, Abby. “Deconstructing Empathy in the Digital Age.” Impakter. N.p., 31 Mar. 2016. Web. 19 Oct. 2016. <>.

O’Toole, James. “Kenneth Cole’s Tweet on Syria Sparks Outrage.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 5 Sept. 2013. Web. 19 Oct. 2016. <>.

Image References:

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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.


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” ( 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” ( 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 ( 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” (

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 ( 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, 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” ( 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, 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, image Oct. 2016

Work Cited

Meredith Corporation. “Bus Driver Loses Job after Facebook Post about Student”. N.p., 31 May 2013, Accessed 16 Oct. 2016

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

Chasing a Ghost: Steve Bartman and the Cubs

bartman-master1050The date was October 14, 2003. The Chicago Cubs we finally having a decent season, keeping a good record all the way until game 6 of the National League Championship Series. Many Chicagoan were beyond excited for the remaining games of the series, the whole city had a euphoric atmosphere. People would gather at the local sports bars and hug strangers when their cubbies scored. So far, game 6 had been going fantastic for the Cubs, they were up 3-0 in the eighth, only five outs away from breaking a 58-year world series absence streak. That is, until Steve Bartman tipped a foul ball away from left fielder’s Moises Alou’s glove.

The very moment Bartman’s hand touched the ball, his life would be changed forever. The New York Times reported that “by the end of the night, he was the most infamous fan, perhaps, in the history of American sports” (Strauss). After the game, he was escorted out by security, for his own safety. In the streets, people pointed and threw objects at him, chanting “asshole”.

But that was only the aggressive fans. Others interviewed later stated that “Batman was a small part of that fateful eighth inning… He didn’t cost us anything” (Strauss). The city was split down the middle, you either felt bad for Bartman, or wanted him banned from Wrigley Field. Those who empathized with Bartman felt that this was merely an overreaction to something that didn’t change much, he was just a scapegoat for all the unfortunate luck that the Cubs had endured for too long. He was welcomed with open arms to many, as most just wanted to end the

Although similar, the difference between Steve Bartman’s and Justine Sacco’s experience is the time period. In 2003, Twitter, Facebook, or even Instagram was widely used if it even existed. This dictated a drastic change in Bartman’s experience, as it was much easier for him to hide from the hate and threats. Justine Sacco, however, couldn’t hide from anyone. The readily available characteristics of social media in recent years left her nowhere to turn, nowhere to hide. Bartman, on the other hand, disappeared like a ghost.

Wired Magazine reports on the effect of social media and public shaming or even threatening. Laura Hudson writes, “social media has given a voice to the disenfranchised at its worst, it’s a weapon of mass reputation destruction”. Even seemingly small accounts with few followers or friends can have a large impact. It’s the network aspect of social media that allows word to travel like the plague, easily destroying someone’s reputation overnight. This ability cripples society’s ability to empathize, as it simply kills off any reason to empathize with the victim.

Many were able to empathize with Steve Bartman. How? The answer is quite simple: social media wasn’t popular enough back in 2003. Had this happened within recent years, he would have been torn apart by Cubs extremists. This is the effect that social media has upon empathy. No one wants to join the victims side, as they will also get attacked. Especially, the views of everybody else will shine no positive light on the victim, so why empathize with someone who seems like the worst person? Social media can change someone’s reputation so much that it makes them impossible to empathize with.


Works Cited:

Strauss, Ben. “Steve Bartman Remains Invisible, 10 Years Later.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 13 Oct. 2013. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.

Hudson, Laura. “Why You Should Think Twice Before Shaming Anyone on Social Media.” Conde Nast Digital, 24 July 2013. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.

Blog #5: Not All Tragedies Are Created Equal

In this digital age, some news stories can trigger a flood of empathy while other events are misunderstood, causing attacks on people for small mistakes. Social media is a double-edged sword; it has allowed global humanitarian efforts to unfold but has also decreased tolerance for small mistakes, changing empathy in unprecedented ways. The quest to invoke empathy is a race where sound bites and clickbait are tools of social media platforms to grab people’s interests instead of prioritizing accurate headlines and news stories. These devices are responsible for both the most ridiculous online stories but also the best examples of empathy and humanity. One instance is the responses to the attacks on Paris last year. When news of the bombings reached the rest of the world, people took to social media to send their prayers and regards to the families who lost loved ones and to all Parisians. Status updates like the one below were common following the attacks on Paris:



In a show of empathy for Paris, Facebook allowed users to put a tricolor filter of France’s flag over their profile picture, also allowing a check-in feature for Facebook users in Paris to notify friends and family that they were safe, an option normally reserved for natural disasters (Barnard). These were some of the social media efforts to comfort and mourn with Paris. But unfortunately, the same treatment was not given to Beirut, where similar ISIS bombings took place a day before the bombings in Paris.

In David Graham’s article, The Empathy Gap Between Paris and Beirut, Graham details the international response to the attacks on Paris in 2015, and notes the stark difference in the empathy between Paris and Beirut. Between the two relatively similar events, Graham investigates the reasons for the uneven distribution of the media’s empathy. While Paris had a higher death count, Graham’s analysis states that there is more to the difference in empathy. The gap is owed to three things: cultural familiarity, resources, and economics. As Graham explains, Paris is more culturally relatable and accessible to us than Beirut. Paris is an iconic city and vacation destination. The idea that such a stable city was attacked was perplexing and terrifying — because to many Americans, Paris could represent their hometown or a major city. Beirut on the other hand had been associated with war even though the attack was the deadliest one in decades. News outlets sent more reporters to Paris than Beirut to cover the respective tragedies and inevitably stirred up empathy for Paris.

(The difference in how news companies cover the attacks on Paris and Beirut is apparent in these videos, starting with titles of the videos.)

In fact, Graham argues, that even if there was equal media coverage of both events, empathy for Paris would have still won out because of our tendency to focus on the unexpected tragedies of “Western” society. These tendencies explained why media platforms like Facebook activated the check-in feature for Paris but not for Beirut — Paris had more Facebook users, attracting a larger global audience. For these reasons, Graham writes that Paris’ tragedy elicited more empathy because of the preconceived notions about each city worked against getting any empathy for Beirut. Graham closes with the statement that the biases implanted and reinforced by the media are harmful because it prioritizes the empathy for certain groups over others and ignores people in need— separating us when we should be uniting in such devastating times.

I agree with Graham’s statement because the gap in empathy is entirely unfair; it reduces the otherwise equal suffering for the sake of making users feel comfortable. The unfortunate reality is that stories with the greatest emotional response get the most views and generate more profit. As a result, not all empathy is portioned fairly online because social media decides who we empathize with before we can make that decision for ourselves by framing stories in ways that inhibit or elicit empathy.  But it is dangerous to ignore people in need because they are harder to empathize with. It neglects the larger issue of suffering and introduces bias instead of help. As Elizabeth Tenety writes in her article, The Digital World Is Warmer than You Think, “Knowledge that disturbs you can also empower you to reach out and act in support, thus giving your own life a little bit more purpose and meaning” (Tenety). During face-to-face interaction, people are predisposed to empathizing with those similar to them and social media is one of the best ways to look past differences and expand empathy (Wayne). Social media is heralded as a tool for breaking barriers, but it is biased in choosing which barriers to break and with whom to share empathy. When social media and news companies decide what headlines to place in front of users, it prevents empathy from being transmitted. The problem is not with how social media is used per se, rather it lies with companies deciding what we like best in order to gain profit.

Between the attacks on Paris and Beirut, headlines about Paris were more abundant, using heart-wrenching words like: “‘massacre,’” “‘carnage,’” and “‘Terror Strikes in Paris’” (Ajaka). Meanwhile, Beirut was repeatedly referred to as a “Hezbollah Stronghold,” minimizing the emotional impact of the deaths and how viewers received it, as if this were to expected and less tragic (Ajaka). This ends up making social media users complacent when the benefits of social media are to inform and change perspectives. This flawed use of social media entraps users in a world that is no different from how they normally interact and limits their ability to empathize with others. In the case of the attacks on Beirut and Paris, it makes the deaths of one city more deserving of empathy than the other.

This is the kind of power the media holds over empathy. Based on the amount of coverage given and the words used to describe a story, social media can regulate outpourings of empathy as easily as one can regulate the water flow of a faucet.

Works Cited:

Ajaka, Nadine. “Paris, Beirut, and the Language Used to Describe Terrorism.”The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 17 Nov. 2015. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.

Barnard, Anne. “Beirut, Also the Site of Deadly Attacks, Feels Forgotten.” New York Times. New York Times, 15 Nov. 2015. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.

Deadly Beirut Blasts Hit Hezbollah Stronghold – BBC News. YouTube. BBC News, 12 Nov. 2015. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.

Graham, David A. “The Empathy Gap Between Paris and Beirut.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 16 Nov. 2015. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.

Little Boy Reacts to Paris Attacks. YouTube. CBC News, 17 Nov. 2015. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.

Tenety, Elizabeth. “The Digital World Is Warmer than You Think. Here’s How Social Media Builds Empathy.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 24 Feb. 2015. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.

Wayne, Teddy. “Found on Facebook: Empathy.” New York Times. New York Times, 9 Oct. 2015. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.

Chick-Fil-A[‘d] His Life (Think About It)

Social media has increasingly become a common form of expression, and a tool to rally causes behind. The tremendous success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and the fervor behind the Harambe movement demonstrate the world’s increasing globalization and community. But behind the memes and social fads, there is an indisputable dark side of social media. Beginning in the early 90’s and gathering momentum through the introduction of the iPhone and other smart devices, cyberbullying has gained a worldwide audience as new and increasingly horrific stories are unveiled daily of children being harassed to the point of suicide (Ornstein 1). But rarely does cyberbullying extend to the adult sphere. Perhaps because of the assumed stability of an adult’s mental condition, or perhaps because those who punished the cyberbullying youths have no one to punish them. But regardless of the reason, the term rarely coincides with the life-ruining harassment that occurs on social media between adults.

“They have been accused and veritably found guilty of providing funds to anti-gay organizations.”

Adam Mark Smith, former CFO and treasurer for Vante, was protesting the unfortunately common practice of large corporations funding “hate groups” or organizations which rally behind controversial causes. In the case of Chick-Fil-A–the company Smith was protesting–they have been accused and veritably found guilty of providing funds to anti-gay organizations. The groups they fund “proudly and aggressively” advocate for the criminalization of people within the LGBTQ+ community, and even promote the idea of killing members within that community. Not only has this all been well documented, but Chick-Fil-A has never tried to dispute these claims (Windmeyer). So however justified Smith was in his outrage, his attempt to rally people behind the cause through a social media video was a complete and utter failure.

“”[Elizabeth] accepted his apology, and there were no hard feelings.”

Seen harassing a Chick-Fil-A employee, Smith was haranguing the lowest employee on the totem pole, the drive-through window worker. While his cause was valid, it is completely incomprehensible the chain of thought which led him to believe that harassing a lower level employee would make any difference in the places Chick-Fil-A’s money is going. However rude his verbal assault was, it is not by any means the crime of the century, and there is no doubt the woman has dealt with worse. After the social media crowd began their trial and conviction of Smith, he released a video apologizing to the woman for his actions. In response, the employee Rachel Elizabeth issued another public video stating that she accepted his apology, and that there were no hard feelings (Pendleton). It is interesting, then, that the mob never set down their pitchforks.

“Why could Elizabeth forgive Smith, and not the public?”

So why could Elizabeth forgive Smith, and not the public? The answer is simple: while social media may not diminish people’s ability to express empathy in the real world, it is a medium over which empathy does not always extend. It is far easier for the mob mentality to take over on the internet, as one does not see the direct impact their words have on the person they are attacking. Thus, in today’s world the capacity for empathy is still very much there, only the internet and social media have created a place where empathy does not need to be expressed. When typing something hateful, it is easy not to understand the way it reads to others, or the impact that the words have, as there is no intonation in text, nor facial expressions on the computer (Wayne).

“Smith is still unemployed after being fired the day after his video went viral.”

Smith is still unemployed after being fired the day after his video went viral. He is being punished for supporting a good cause, though undoubtedly the wrong way. It would be interesting to see the effect if the social media rallied their attention and fervor behind his cause, rather than persecuting Smith for two minutes of mistakes.

Elizabeth forgave Smith for his misguided attempt to incite the people using social media. While his method backfired, it does illustrate the important point that people make mistakes, and social media makes it immeasurably easier to criticize people for them. It is important to consider a person beyond the one tweet or Facebook status that made them famous, because a person is more than the sum of their social media. It is only through this practice can empathy begin to breach the world of internet and social media. So in the end we should all take a page out of Rachel Elizabeth’s book, and learn to forgive social media users for their faux-pas, as it could be any one of us who commits one next.

Works Cited

Pendleton, Kara. “After Berating Innocent Chick-Fil-A Worker, Many Say He’s Now Getting Exactly What He Deserves.” Independent Journal Review. Independent Journal Review, 27 Mar. 2015. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.

Ornstein, Daniel, Betsy Plevan, and Yasmine Tarasewicz. “Bullying, Harassment and Stress in the Workplace — A European Perspective.” International Labor and Employment Law. Proskauer Rose LLP, 6 Dec. 2011. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.

Wayne, Teddy. “Found on Facebook: Empathy.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 9 Oct. 2015. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.

Windmeyer, Shane L. “The Secret Recipe for Funding Hate Groups: 5 Simple Facts About Chick-fil-A.” The Huffington Post., 10 Aug. 2012. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.

Social Media’s Implications on Empathy

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).


Works Cited

CBS This Morning. “San Diego teen commits suicide after bullying over embarrassing video.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 16 July 2014. Web. 18 October 2016.

Gary Turk. “Look Up || Gary Turk – SPOKEN WORD.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 25 April 2014. Web. 19 October 2016.

O’Brien, Keith. “The Empathy Deficit.” BostonGlobe, Accessed 18 October 2016.

Wiggins, Mel. “Social Media and the Empathy Deficit.” MelWiggins, Accessed 18 October 2016.