Demeaning words online–Exaggerated empathy’s limitation protected by anonymous mask

As  the development of digital age moves forward, social media is becoming a new tool of information deliverer. Compared to traditional style of information dissemination such as letters or talks face-to face, social media is more convenient and instant considering its public transparency and accessibility. Also, people are able to give quick response towards hot issues that have raised wide-spread concern. However, affected by in-group preference of empathy and “mask protection” provided by virtual world, people may make hostile and extreme reactions on social media.


People’s comments on Mack Horton

As a notable example of this, people’s response to Mack Horton’s rude remarks on
Sun Yang in Rio Olympic deserves our attention. According to
Global Times, “Hours before the game, Horton called Sun a “drug cheat,” and in an interview after the game, he defended his accusation that Sun was a drug user”. Almost instantly, people’s outrage, especially those from Sun Yang’s fans are poured in Horton’s Instagram, leading to over 500,000 comments to condemn his loss of Olympic spirits. People are requesting Horton’s apology towards Sun Yang while some insults Horton’s as a “dead man”. ABC News also writes an article titled as “Gold medal winner Mack Horton trolled online after calling out ‘drug cheat’ Sun Yang” to describe such kind of responses from social media. As pointed out, “Chinese fans have taken the grudge match into their own hands, attacking Horton on his various social media accounts using the hashtag #apologizetosunyang”. However, the truth behind Sun Yang’s positive test is, according to Global Times, “He was using a medication for his heart problem, but unfortunately, it contained a substance which had just been banned as a new type of stimulant” while related departments have not updated that rule. So, on one hand, Mack was not lying based on the existing fact two years ago. On the other hand, Sun should not be labelled as drug cheat since he did not take banned medicine for this game.


Cyber bullying on social media

While reasoning works fine for both sides, why do some people react so extremely on social media with demeaning wor
ds? To illustrate, from my perspective, there are two reasons. To begin with, the in-group preference of empathy, I think, contributes mostly to people’s anger towards Mack. Most of Sun’s fans are from China. When it’s not clear either side is right, people tend to choose the “familiar group” for empathy. As Fuchsman, Ken indicated, “Empathy is most likely to emerge with those with whom we are familiar, those that are an ‘us’”.  At the same time, the anonymous identity on social media somehow removes some of people’s misgivings for posting extreme comments. This means, they realized that in most cases, they don’t have to pay for what they have said on social media. My opinion is shared by Ellie Lisitsa whose instance is that “They don’t have to feel the other person’s tension or convey their own. They don’t have to suppress it or deal with it in any way”. This mask provides people with a hide of themselves so that they can remove the barrier which they tend to have in face-to-face real life. And then as Ellie Lisitsa emphasized, “A sense of right and wrong, responsibility for one’s actions, can easily vanish.” What’s more, as explained by L. Mark Carrier, “The lack of nonverbal cues in the online world contributes to overall lower levels of virtual empathy compared to the real world”, which leads to excessive empathy for Sun and deficient empathy for Horton.

Work cited:

Ronson, Jon. “God That Was Awesome.” So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Riverhead Books, 2015 67-90

Fuchsman, Ken. “Empathy and Humanity.” The Journal of psychohistory, vol. 42, no. 3, 2015., pp. 176.

L. Mark Carrier, “Virtual empathy: Positive and negative impacts of going online upon empathy in young adults”

Ellie Lisitsa, “The Digital Age: Empathy In Utopia” November 22, 2013,

ABC News Site, “Rio 2016: Gold medal winner Mack Horton trolled online after calling out ‘drug cheat’ Sun Yang”,

Global Times, “Horton displays no goodwill in remarks over his rival”,

The video of Horton’s remark on Sun Yang:

The picture of Mack Horton’s post and people’s reactions:’s-instagram-is-trolled-by-angry-chinese-users/7698766



Why is empathy missing in the digital age

In Jon Ronson’s article “God That Was Awesome”, he introduces the experience of Justine Sacco, who got into great trouble by making a bad joke on Twitter about how she would not get HIV in Africa because she is white (68). Her joke got her fired, and tons of people scold her harshly through the social media. However, when interviewed by the author Jon Ronson, she explained that her original intension in making the joke was to raise a joke about a dire situation that does exist and people do not pay attention to. Some people did not get her point and started to attack her on the Twitter, others act along with them, resulting in the massive retweet and unanimous criticism toward Justine. Jon Ronson analyzed this incident after meeting with Justine Sacco, and states that the most fearful people are the powerful, crazy, and cruel Internet people who blindly destroy the public figures who have not done anything wrong (90). My aim in this essay is to find a similar example of this phenomenon, and then relate a theory addressing this phenomenon to the example to find out the reason of online violence.


In 2014, Axelle Despiegelaere, a 17 year old Belgian model got herself in an identical situation just like Justine Sacco did. She became popular during the 2014 World Cup because one of her picture taken while she was cheering for Belgium went viral. Things changed dramatically when she uploaded a photo of herself holding a hunting rifle next to a dead oryx, with a caption: “Hunting is not a matter of life or death. It’s much more important than that…this was about 1 year ago…ready to hunt americans today haha” (Axelle Despiegelaere) Fans were provoked by her post, and started to attack her on social media. Although later she posted an apology saying, “I didn’t mean to offend anyone… it was a joke.” Fans did not stop accusing her for her inappropriate joke. She ended up losing her contract with L’Oreal. (Business Insider)

Many of us are confused about why people turned into some dispassionate “monsters” that have no empathetic feeling towards others on the Internet. Jane Wakefield, a reporter at BBC News, discusses the empathy in the digital age in her article “Why are people so mean to each other online?” She indicates that the Internet gives people opportunity to say things that they would not say face to face with others (Jane Wakefield). This is because people feel safe behind the computer screen, thinking the objects cannot fight back, and they also do not consider the users on the social media as real human beings, thus they have little sense of guilt when they make harsh comments, and they therefore have no empathetic feeling towards them. Jon Ronson also mentions this. Ronson says people dehumanize the people they are about to hurt, also known as cognitive dissonance in psychology (80). According to Leon Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory, individuals seek consistency between their expectations and reality (207). The Internet attackers’ lack of empathy does not consist with their real life standard. And they therefore engage in a process called “dissonance reduction”. Festinger discusses dissonance reduction in his work A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, pointing out that there are four methods of reduction:

  1. Change behavior or cognition
  2. Justify behavior or cognition by changing the conflicting cognition
  3. Justify behavior or cognition by adding new cognitions
  4. Ignore or deny any information that conflicts with existing beliefs. (Festinger)

When it comes to the case of Axelle, people who commit the cruel act towards her fit perfectly in the fourth method. When they leave mean comment about her on the Internet, they ignore the fact that Axelle is a human being, and therefore they do not feel that she is one of them and do not empathize with her at all, which reliefs them from the agony of inconsistency. So they could scold her dispassionately without any concerns that they may have misinterpreted her post, and they do not have to fear that they may destroy her life with those comments. After considering all these theories, we can understand the online attackers’ action better.


Works cited:

Ronson, Jon. “God That Was Awesome.” So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Riverhead Books, 2015 67-90

Despiegelaere, Axelle., Facebook, Jul 1 2014.

“L’Oreal Severs Ties With Viral World Cup Model After Crass Hunting Photo Emerges”, Business Insider, 2014, Accessed Oct 24 2016.

Wakefield, Jane. “Why are people so mean to each other online?” BBC Technology, 2014, Accessed Oct 24 2016.

Festinger, Leon. A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, California: Stanford University Press, 1957.

Festinger, Leon. “Cognitive Dissonance.” Scientific American. 1962, 93–107

We tend to be more outrageous when we’re online.

1Korean pop stars nowadays are famous not only for their solid singing and dancing skills, but also widely known as receiving plastic surgery in order to become phenomenon. Though this is already a kind of common sense to many people, we all feel extremely shock when the news of South Korean pop star Lim 2-2Na Young has been brought in limelight. Back in August 2016, Lim was attending a live show Produce 101 on a famous channel in South Korea. In order to fully introduce this well-known celebrity, the host of the show did a full recall of Lim Na Young’s 5-year career as a popular figure. Lim fought so hard on her path 3to her dream that when she finally made it and look back on her own experience, she couldn’t help but crying out on the live show. As all the audiences and the host were touched by her experience, Lim tried to stop crying by sniffing and pressing her nose. But this unconscious move had resulted in her nose collapsed entirely. Everybody on sight was severely shocked and embarrassed, for they all know for sure at that time that she did not fight all on her own talent to success but with some help of plastic surgery(

Though as I mentioned above that plastic surgery see  ms to be the must-have feature that South Korean pop stars possess, comments on this news (including pictures) about Lim still exploded on various social medias.The public still can not take the huge gap between the hard-fighting and honest-to-god figure that the host has portrayed about Lim and the real Lim who uses technology to fake her face to gain more attention from public. People started to question that besides her face, what else did Lim fake about herself, her education level? her family background? Or more severely, her own inspirational fighting experience? People’s comments have gone so intense that it took Lim herself so much effort to clarify this event by trying to state that she once had an accident which injured her nose badly and she had to receive the plastic surgery to recover her face. But this detailed explanation seemed to further worsen the public opinions. As a result, Lim Na Young’s career as a pop star was heavily affected, for she was refused on multiple deals because her company considered her as a “questionable public figure”(

I took some special insight in why the public react so extremely about something which seems to be the pretty obvious one. People’s comments firstly exploded on some formal medias in South Korea, then they suddenly became aggressive attacks on social medias such as Facebook. From my perspective I’d say that people have the opportunity to say things online which they do not dare to say in real life, for they speak anonymously on social media. L. Mark Carrier holds the same view as I do in his book Virtual Empathy: Positive and Negative impacts of going online upon Empathy in Young Adults. He claims that the displacement of face-to-face conversation by online chatting or activities may cause people to act more hysterically than they do in real life(Carrier). This can account for why there’s a sudden attitude switch of people’s opinions from formal media to social media. Furthermore, Carrier points out that the lack of non-verbal information conveyed online makes people easily to lower their empathy level and less likely to consider the subject as their own kind of beings, which further leads to their outrage towards a subjective matter(Carrier).

I totally agree with Carrier on his point. It makes perfect sense that Lim would receive her plastic surgery after the accident(though we do not know if it was true), but people tends to feel that they were conceived because she did not gain her position totally by her own effort as she described. So there came the outburst of attacks from the public regardless of what was the “truth”,or whether we may try to understand what really happened and try to empathize with her.


Work Cited:

Carrier, L.M , et al. “Virtual Empathy: Positive and Negative Impacts of Going Online upon Empathy in Young Adults.” COMPUTERS IN HUMAN BEHAVIOR, vol. 52, 2015., pp. 39-48 ,doi:10.1016/j.chb.2015.05.026.


“South Korean Pop Star Nose Collapse.,The Watcher , 2016,, Accessed 24,Oct 2016.

Pseudo-Empathy in Digital Age

Nowadays, we have entered in a world that is never be so connected before. With the unprecedented boom of internet and social media, people are able to share their pleasant moments, feelings and viewpoints in a worldwide scale. However, pseudo-empathy prevails. Internet and social media could sever as the amplifier to lay stress on the trivial points in short passages that are not even noticed by the people who post them. In “God That Was Awesome”, the author fully illustrates such a destructive power of social media. Justine Sacco, a young and aspiring who worked in a PR department in a magazine publisher. Everything went so well, not until her pressed “sent” on her little tweet teasing her impossibility of having AIDS, before her departure to a family trip to South Africa. In that tweet, she made fun about her impossibility of getting HIV in Africa, because she is white. After tweeting that joke, her life was rapidly changed.  It seemed like people from all over the world were accusing her as a racist on tweeter. She was being stocked, receive threads and lost her promising job. In the article, its author, John Ronson, put forward a new term: public shaming. In public shaming, people have a tendency to agree on a specifically shared moral standard, condemn the people who violate this set of standard and see these people being punished. Ronson, in his article, states that this kind of shaming in the social media is outstanding, partly because of the anonymity within the social media. He criticized this phenomenon and said that: “it felt like we are soldiers making war on others’ flaws, and there had suddenly been an escalation on hostiles.” (90)

Indeed, the public shaming in social media, Social Media shaming is the exact spot where pseudo-empathy permeates through its users’ minds. While using the social media, people are so obsessed with accusing others by applying their moral sense, which comes from their living environments and is deeply embedded into their minds, to pursuit the justice in their minds. By doing so, they even are willing to impose the people who, in their perspective, made little mistake, severe punishments that way exceed they deserve.  In this situation, pseudo-empathy takes major responsibility to such radical reactions that people show while using social media. People would like empathize with the person who sent “wrong” message and viewpoint in the social media from a self-oriented perspective. In another word, they try to grasp the person’s purpose of sending the “wrong” viewpoints and often consider the purpose as evil, because their empathy is pseudo-empathy but not real empathy.

Moreover, I notice an interesting point in Ronson’s interview with Justine. Justine told author that the joke that she posted on tweet was acceptable within her community and she had no idea that her little joke would cause so many social attentions at the very beginning. I cannot help to think of another case that is somehow similar to the situation above. At the beginning of this year, Tsai Ing-wen was elected as the president of Taiwan. As the first female president of Taiwan, she implied that Taiwan now not belongs to China, and she will manage the relationship between China and Taiwan in order to magnified the welfare of Taiwan citizens. This political view, though seemed sound for Taiwan citizen, greatly violated the moral standard of Chinese Citizens, who had been inform that Taiwan is an unseparated part of China through generations. Chinese Citizens soon began to leave tons of comments under Tsai Ing-wen’s Facebook. Although some of them were rational analyzations of the relationship of Taiwan and China, most of them were pointless mockery and verbal attack. They blamed that the political view of Tsai Ing-wen did not match their own sense of moral standard. The size of comment from Chinese citizen grown so fast that Taiwan citizen also took part in commenting. They tried to contest the opinion of Chinese citizens through variety of ways. The debate was so intense that it soon gained the worldwide attention and, after Tsai Ing-wen closed down the commend section, it began to fade away. From the two examples that I listed above, it is clear that, due to the divergent of moral standards and pseudo-empathy within the social media, people tend to judge other people harshly according to their own sense of morality.

To sum up, thanks to the pseudo-empathy that people usually adept to measure others on social media, it is hard for people to truly empathize others. The empathetic feeling of social shaming will urge people to start war on the viewpoints that does not match their moral standards. Therefore, the empathy in social media tends to drive people to be more cynical.

Work Cited:

Ronson, Jon. Part Four, God That Was Awesome, So You’ve been Publicly Shamed, Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), New York, 2015

Tsai Ing-wen’s Facebook:蔡%20英文%20tsai%20ingwen

Empathy, Internet and Social Media

Today, in the digital age, social media is a huge part of our everyday lives. There are tons of examples of people creating their careers using social media, however, there are some in which social media played significant role in ruining not only one’s careers but one’s lives as well. This phenomenon is regarded as public shame. One of the most renowned paradigms of public shame is the case of Paul Christoforo, where public shame provoked not only ruining Paul’s life and career, but also led to the end of a company. Paul was in charge of public relations in the company named “Ocean Marketing”, which was selling “N-Control Avenger” – controllers for gamers with disabilities. The fiasco started when Dave, a gamer with disabilities, emailed Paul about delay of his order on the controller, which lead to long and unpleasant for Dave email conversation between two. Most of the times, Paul was unprofessional and even rude.Email By Dave After Paul told him to put on his “big boy hat and wait it out like everyone else”, Dave started to get involve websites like Penny Arcade and others. Soon after, the conversation between the two went viral and it drew a lot of attention in social media. Due to bad reviews from the angry costumers, caused by Paul’s rudeness, the sales of Ocean Marketing decayed significantly, which eventually lead to the closing of the company. Paul was fired and had further problems getting work. He had to change his twitter account several times and eventually had to deactivate it. The example of Paul Christoforo prominently illustrates how public shame destroyed one’s career and life.

Empathy in digital age is becoming a popular subject now a days and there are more and more scholarly and non-scholarly articles dedicated to the topic. One I find the most interesting is Christopher Terry’s “The Emerging Issue of Digital Empathy”, which addresses the problem of empathy in digital age and displays reasons behind the lack thereof. According to the author, the personal thoughts and attitudes of the people expressed in digital media may be different from those expressed in real life (Terry). While there are cases where people display unusual acts of the kindness, most of the time people in social media tend to be more sarcastic, more critical and tend to use harsh language (Terry). Christopher Terry underlines factors that contribute to the nature of communication in internet and social media. According to the author, the main reasons behind the lack of empathy in digital communication are anonymity, asynchronicity and lack of face-to-face presence (Terry). Anonymity in social media permits people to possess an alternate identity, which frees them to express hostility and criticism. Due to asynchronicity, individuals in social media can avoid the backlash of online discussions as well as having to manage immediate reactions from the public. Lack of face-to-face presence allows people to avoid any kind of non-verbal
communication including eye contact and physical reaction, which plays a huge role in Social Media and Intenretreal world empathy. Therefore, according to the author “in essence, the subconscious psychological factors associated with the online disinhibition effect negatively impact the likelihood that empathy will be expressed in digital environments” (Terry).

Understanding the effects of the internet and social media on our inclination towards empathy, we can shed the light on both, Paul Christoforo’s and people’s whose hate led to getting Paul fired, actions. In Paul’s case, lack of empathy is due to lack of face-to-face presence and asynchronicity. Because he did not have to face the immediate irritation his rude emails rose in Dave, and because he could not have non-verbal communication that invokes empathy, Paul experienced lack of empathy towards Dave, which is a common practice in internet and social media communication. Similarly, people who expressed irritation using social media did not feel empathy towards Paul due to similar reasons. Since they did not have to face an immediate reaction from Paul and because there was a lack of face-to-face presence, they did not feel empathy towards him. Therefore, Paul Christoforo’s case is a paragon of how internet and social media affect empathy and community.

Works Cited:

Image Sources:

Empathy in the Digital Age

In the essay “God that was Awesome” the author described a pitiful woman, whose name was Justine Sacco. Justine Sacco’s life was totally destroyed by the social media because of her inappropriate joke on other races posted tweeter and “successfully” aroused the anger of the populace As a result, she was not only fired by her company but also became infamous among the public, which made she almost impossible to find any job in the future. Surely, in this digital age, anything posted on the internet has potential to be either good, or bad. Such things do not only happen in America, but in any place in the world. There is an example of a Chinese “Internet celebrity”, Zichen Liu, who continuously posted his own obviously-Photoshoped picture on Weibo, whose function is mainly the same as Facebook, but mainly used in China. At the same time, he claimed that he was half Chinese and half French and he had neither do face-lifting nor photoshoping.

999073dd0dc180ebc23d6f66c51db0ec_r (Zichen Liu’s picture in his Weibo)

0f2a2844128d73764156d717e6f0bfa6_r(Zichen Liu’s “true appearance”, the guy in black on the left)

As he continued posting erratic pictures of his own and quarreling with the people who don’t like him by saying that they were just jealous of his beauty, the public were enraged. A user from “Zhihu”, a Chinese form of Quora, criticize Liu like this: “His method to increase his public awareness is, mainly, sending photoshoped photo of himself to make others sick or angry and scolding some well-known figures and the people who disapprove his idea. He treats people as idiot and should certainly pay for his action someday”.

Finally, the day had come: Angry people started to search Liu on the internet and found that he actually did cosmetic surgery several times. Some people even took some personal photographs by trailing after Liu into his housing estate. Not surprisingly, these personal photos were posted on the internet. Under the public pressure, Liu chose to apologize to the public for his lying and taunting to the public. However, the public did not accept his apology, angry people keep trailing after Liu and even took the video of he and his girlfriend sleeping together without cloth. Apparently, Liu could not accept his personal life been fully exposed under public’s sight. He posted a video of himself apologizing to everyone and cried with tear, wanted to earn the forgiveness from the public and promising not to appear in the Weibo anymore.

While people finally stopped their “revenge” of Liu’s taunt and lie, some people pointed out that that we treated Liu too bad and he actually did not deserve his own life been exposed to the public. From an analytic point of view, Liu did nothing harm to the society and wrangling with people is actually a normal thing on the internet. Now, we might need to think that whether we are really lack of empathy in online social media platform because no one stood out and spoke for Liu, when all of such things happened, what people do were either observing Liu being shamed by others or attack Liu by themselves. I think the answer to this question would be “Yes” and more horribly, the Internet is killing our empathy to others. In the CNN article “Is the internet killing empathy”, Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan helped us explain the reason of this of situation: Lack of empathy on the Internet. In the passage, the authors gave us the explanation from a medical way: “According to the most recent findings from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 8- to 18-year-olds on average spend 11½ hours a day using their technology. Their brains have become “wired” to use their tech gadgets effectively in order to multi-task — staying connected with friends, texting and searching online endlessly, often exposing their brains to shocking and sensational images and videos. Many people are desensitizing their neural circuits to the horrors they see, while not getting much, if any, off-line training in empathic skills. And the effects may even reach young people.”

Moreover, in Martin L. Hoffman’s passage “Empathy, Justice and Law”, Hoffman mentioned that lack of empathy may be the result of the natural limitations of empathy. In the article, the limitations of empathy means that empathizing with people around us and empathize more to physically present people than potentially unseen people.” (Hoffman 250) In all of these three cases (Justine Sacco, Liu and news reporter), almost no one in the public had ever seen, or knew them before, thus they would certainly be hard to gain empathy from the public.

The conclusion is clear: When we are surfing the internet, it is not hard to find out that we are usually pitiless among the things happened on the social media and this circumstance could be explained by both emotional ways and medical ways, but this doesn’t mean that we should not feel empathy to others on the internet. Instead, we should keep an empathic heart at every time or our empathy would be destroyed easily by the social media.


Work Cited

Martin L. Hoffman. “Empathy, Justice and Law”. Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Oxford University Press. 2014. 213-254

Ronson, Jon. Part Four, God That Was Awesome, So You’ve been Publicly Shamed, Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), New York, 2015

Gary Small, Gigi Vorgan. “Is the internet killing empathy?”

Zichen Liu’s introduction:

Zichen Liu’s pictures:

Zhihu user’s comment on Liu:

TTechnology puts our humanity-empathy at risk

In September 2015,  a team of four Rwandan high school students who were debating against Pepperdine University. As the topic being discussed was politics, one person asked them to compare the kind of politic and leadership exercised in African countries to that in the United States. Jean Michel (part of the team) then answered that unlike the United States where Obama has spent twenty years preparing for his career as a politician, most African leaders “go from fighting in the bush one day to being president the next” (Tanya Garcia, “Rwandan Debaters focus on empowering the youth”, Pepperdine University Graphic). A few days after a Rwandan website wrote an article derived from Pepperdine Graphic. This Rwandan article explained that Jean Michel Habineza insulted Rwanda by saying that her leaders aren’t experienced at all because they only seized power and so do not deserve to be leaders at all.  The article claims that Jean Michel Habineza was referring to President Paul Kagame by saying “People go from fighting in the bush one day to being presidents the next”. After the publication of this article, Jean Michel Habineza started receiving a very big number of attacks on all his social media. Those attacks would be saying that because he grew up rich and privileged, he doesn’t understand different difficulties that people meet and hence feels entitled to look down upon the poor and the unprivileged. After weeks of being insulted and receiving cruel comments, Jean Michel wrote a response to those attacks saying that what he said was taken out of context because he didn’t point out any specific country in Africa and neither had he said that he was referring to the current Rwandan Leaders. Yet people decided to assume that he had meant Rwanda and the current government in his speech. Jean Michel also explained that he is aware of the different progress that Rwanda has made after the genocide due to the efficiency of the current government and so wouldn’t dare saying that the leaders are inexperienced. I think that it is reasonable to trust that Jean Michel’s response was honest most especially since Pepperdine graphic which is the one which quoted him directly, and it didn’t mention Rwanda while quoting Jean Michel.  

An article by CNN “Is the internet killing empathy?”, the author explains that most of social media users tend to lack empathy towards other the victims of media shaming. He tells the story of a CNN news reporter whose speech was garbled while she was doing a live news report. The next morning, the video was put on different websites on the internet where it went viral. The author explains that nowadays, people no longer respect the kind of privacy where if something bad like that happened, people chose to look away as a form of respect to the victim. The author makes it clear that we tend to lose our sensibility the more we observe unfortunates of others. This point can even be reflected in Jean Michel’s experience. He was attacked by internet users who didn’t even doubt for a while the website that might have written the story. He says: “The more we observe terrifying events happening to other people, the more they reinforce our sense of denial and detachment: It can’t happen to us.” (Gary Small, Gigi Vorgan, “Is the internet killing empathy”, Special to CNN) . Those people who insulted Jean Michel must have felt disconnected from Jean Michel.The author continues explaining a big number of people spend much time on the internet or social media where they are exposed to different horrific videos that reduces their ability to empathize with other people.  He concludes by explaining that empathy is part of what makes us human and so, we should first evaluate our responses, make sure we are getting the right context and hence reduce technology’s negative influence on our empathy. This example helps us understand that Media shaming Jean Michel Habineza or the very woman in the CNN story was a very bad thing. The internet tends to rob us our humanity-empathy. All those comments that Jean Michel received might have had a very bad impact on him so we should first thoroughly consider our negative views before we share them.

Work cited:

Tanya Garcia. “Rwandan Debaters focus on empowering the youth”. Pepperdine University Graphic, September 26, 2015

Gary Small. Gigi Vorgan. “Is the internet killing empathy”, Special to CNN February 18, 2011

Igihe. “Amagambo umwana wa Joe Habineza yavugiye muri Amerika yamaganiwe kure”., 29-09-2015.


Empathy in the Digital Age

In “God That Was Awesome”, the author Jon Ronson contends the devastating impact of social media Tweeter on Justine Sacco who posts a joke on tweeter which is regarded as seriously discriminated to other races. Indeed, this kind of increasing leading by social media is ordinary in this high-speed technological world. For instance, we can easily hear plenty of rumors about celebrities and cannot distinguish which one is realistic and which one is fabricated by intentional media and imagination of public. And even normal people can be mentally attacked by the Internet users and social media conductors.

Tracing back to May 2015, in the southwestern city Chengdu in China, a female diver was brutally beaten by a male driver due to her reckless lane changing on the cross road. After the shocking video surfaced online, presenting that the man dragged the woman out of her seat, thrown on the ground and kicked her several times on the head, the public promoted a wave of anger against the assailant and urged to punish the man intensely. However, the public attitude was apparently shifted and separately divided when the other video, a footage in the man’s car showing the woman swerving “dangerously” across his lane frightened his child and his wife, was presented to the public. The public started to understand that the male driver in that situation was obviously infuriated by the woman’s abruptly changing. They could tolerate the man’s bully to a lady since they accept the explanation by the man that he was insanely out of control due to his vast indignation. Thus, a large amount of Internet users was critical of the woman and argued that the woman was “deserved to be attacked”. Plenty of comments like this posted on major news portal received a total of more than 100,000 thumbs up.%e5%b1%8f%e5%b9%95%e5%bf%ab%e7%85%a7-2016-11-10-%e4%b8%8a%e5%8d%8810-01-46%e5%b1%8f%e5%b9%95%e5%bf%ab%e7%85%a7-2016-11-10-%e4%b8%8a%e5%8d%8810-01-54

What exactly made people stop sympathizing with the woman and ignore the physical and mental hurt of the woman? Why did people blame the man drastically at first and then regard the assailant as a tolerable and understandable reaction? Was the protection of public order that prevents accidents triggered by road rage? Absolutely not. A commentary published on state-run China Youth Daily lashed out at this rhetoric which I agree most: “Cheering for the beating of the female driver is not only applauding for violence, [an act of] sexual discrimination, but also reflects the violent tendency of the society.”

As we can see, Justine Sacco conducted the irregular and sensitive post on social media and was misunderstood by others on account of lack of background information attached to the public. Besides, the incomplete evidence of a conflict divided Chinese public’s attitude toward the man’s assailant and eventually the assailant became understandable and the woman was “deserved to be beaten”. From my perspective, I agree with the Jon Ronson’s elaboration of the reason why social media can destroy both guilty and innocent people. In author’s position, “we were more frightening than Judge Ted Poe” “the powerful, crazy, cruel people were now us”, which explains that it’s us who prevail rumors through misunderstanding and pseudo-empathy of others or even groundless condemning of people who should not be punished intensely. (Jon Ronson 90)

Do we lack of empathy in online social media communication than face-to face communication? The answer is definitely yes. Although social media gives us the key to unlock the door of empathy toward superficial facts, the lack of nonverbal clues and insufficient information in online communication exaggerate the limitations of empathy. In the article, “Empathy, Justice, Law”, Martin L. Hoffman says that the limitations of empathy include that we empathize with people nearby and empathize more to physically present people than potentially unseen people. (Hoffman 251) In the article “Do social media foster or curtail adolescents’ empathy?” written by Vossen Helen, study shows that social media only affects certain aspect of empathy. “The Perception Action Model of empathy postulates that imagining emotions of others taps more into cognitive empathy while direct observation of emotions more often elicits affective empathy.” (Vossen) However, due to the insufficient and vague facts and information, people are less likely cognitive and affective to the unseen people and indistinguishable truth.

The conclusion of Vossen Helen is easy to be explained because social media enlarges our scope of knowing and recognizing of other people’s emotions, however, misunderstanding and pseudo empathy occur when we only know the surface of the facts without exploring the roots and the backgrounds. We may conceive what we see and hear, but the affective emotion emerges conditionally. We may imagine the context of the post in social media, but minority of people consider the purposes of others’ posts and meditate in what extent we should take them seriously and perceive them correspondingly. In most of time, we prefer to remain our own perspectives toward others’ thinking and judge others’ value which frequently complies with dominant consciousness. Thus, we arrogantly pretend to reveal the misspeaking and misbehaviors of others and eager to become a justice promoter. However, without empathetic understanding, we consequently become the most powerful and cruel people who can destroy others easily in the social media.


Martin L. Hoffman. “Empathy, Justice and Law”. Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Oxford University Press. 2014. 213-254

Morton, Adam. “Empathy For The Devil.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives, edited by Amy Coplan, Peter Goldie, Oxford University Press, 2011, 318-330.

Ronson, Jon. Part Four, God That Was Awesome, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), New York, 2015

Vossen, Helen G. M., and Patti M. Valkenburg. “Do Social Media Foster Or Curtail Adolescents’ Empathy? A Longitudinal Study.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 63, 2016., pp. 118-124

Chris Luo, South China Morning Post, news, China, Man’s brutal beating of female driver divides Chinese public after different car videos emerge, Published: Wednesday, 06 May, 2015, 3:22pm, Updated: Thursday, 07 May, 2015, 7:06pm


Social media fights for Cecil the lion

It seems that the social media world is either picking on or supporting a different individual each day. One target of choice was Walter Palmer.  During the summer of 2015, Walter Palmer went from being being a dentist to a worldwide target. Palmer, an avid trophy hunter, was on a trip in Zimbabwe when he captured one of his most prized kills. Along with his tour guides, Palmer successfully killed a lion by the name of Cecil. Cecil was very well known and lived in a protected park, thus putting Walter Palmer and his team of hunters in a tough position. The group faced some legal implications, but what impacted Walter Palmer most was the outlash of people across the world. People took to social media as a way to express their anger toward Walter Palmer. As seen in the title of the article by Hilary Whiteman, the hashtag “#WalterPalmer” was all over twitter. Jimmy Kimmel provides one of the many reactions from celebrities. While he made his best attempt at justifying his actions, people made sure to give him the harsh treatment that they thought he deserved(Whiteman).

P.J. Manney wrote a very interesting article which can help to explain this situation. With the heightened role of social media in everybody’s lives, Manney decided to do some research on the role of empathy in the social media craze. He argues that there is hope for the future generations,but there is also clear evidence to show why people seemingly act with no empathy on the social media forums (Manney). Interestingly enough, his findings can very closely relate to the situation with Walter Palmer. P.J. Manney theorizes that the extreme lack of empathy comes as a result of the creation of “out groups”. The “out group” can describe a great variety of groups of people. This might be a group of people supporting a political figure, a racial group or in the case of Walter Palmer, animal hunters(Manney). This “out group” is seen by people on social media as being so faulty that they are no longer treated like other human beings. People will take this group and say what they want, proving that they have a severe lack of empathy. Once people became aware that Cecil was killed, Walter Palmer was thought of as being in a group of people that don’t care about the lives of animals. Once he was placed in this group, they felt much more justified to make comments that would typically be considered very offensive. I really enjoy the argument that he makes. It is most interesting that this “out group” can be one which actually acts in a morally incorrect way (take the KKK for example) or it can be a group which is not at any fault (African American people). I think that this is something that is present in many realms of life, though he is able to describe it with this specific term.


Whiteman, Hilary. “#WalterPalmer: From hunter to hunted– Internet seeks revenge for Celcil the Lion.” Truth Revolt. 29 July 2015. Web. 4 November 2016. <>


Manney, P.J. “Is Technology Destroying Empathy?” LiveScience.  30 June 2015. Web. 23 October 2016. <>


Blog Assignment 5 – Empathy in the Digital Age

Social media is a two-edged sword. In “God That Was Awesome,” Jon Ronson details the experience of Twitter user Justine Sacco, whose tweet about the (im)possibility of her, a white woman, contracting HIV while in Africa got her publicly shamed and fired. Sacco’s experience, while extreme, is not particularly unusual. Almost all of us can relate to having a social media experience go horribly wrong, and we have likely all heard of such experiences becoming short-lived and embarrassing public spectacles for both celebrities and “ordinary” people. At the same time, we’ve also seen social media create huge outpourings of public support and sympathy or empathy among users.

For this blog post, you will find an example of either phenomenon. This should be an example that has generated some form of media attention. You will briefly relate that example, and link to a story on it. Then you will do some research on empathy in the digital age. Unlike your first assignment, this research does not have to be scholarly. But it should in some way address the question of the effects the internet and social media have on empathy and community. Then you will integrate this source into your post by summarizing the author’s position, and explaining whether you think this position helps shed light on the example you’ve chosen. In other words, you may agree or disagree with the author, or you may decide that this example complicates the author’s position without necessarily invalidating it–it’s up to you.

Your blog post should be 500-750 words, and is due by the beginning of class on Tuesday (10/25). Remember to cite your sources according to the guidelines outlined on the “Class Blogs” handout.