Social media may instill apathy in users

Benroy Chan

When tragedy strikes, communities come together to comfort each other and restore a sense of stability and compassion. However, although the advent of social media fosters global connectedness, people are ironically becoming more and more apathetic towards tragedy and, in some cases, disrespectful.

Two weeks ago, a forest fire began in Bastrop County, burning down several homes and mandating the evacuation of many residents. Smoke from the fire drifted into Austin and sparked curiosity from students at UT.

When a freshman posted on the UT Class of 2019 Facebook page to ask about the smoke, one person accurately informed others of the fire while many were quick to use the situation as the butt of a joke, oblivious to the severity of the problem.

PACE freshman Elena Cole responded to the distasteful comments by asking other students to be mindful of others on the page who may be directly affected by the fires but received backlash.

“I knew that none of the people posting harsh comments would be saying those things had they known the smoke caused such devastation,” Cole said. “I knew that there were people personally affected by the fires that would have been hurt to see people making such rude jokes about their situation.”

This incident is a pertinent example of how social media reduces empathy in individuals. A 2010 study found that almost 75 percent of students rated themselves as less empathetic than the average student in 1980, 30 years prior, with a particularly steep decrease between 2000 and 2010.

While one cannot attribute this drop in empathy solely to social media, the ability to scroll away from depressing posts or situations likely plays a role in it. When the news media shows graphic images from events such as the Boston bombing, these types of events attain a sense of normalcy. According to Robert Quigley, senior lecturer in the School of Journalism, when people are surrounded by tragedy, they can tune out information they don’t want or care to hear.

“We’re inundated with violent situations all of the time,” Quigley said. “This is a pretty violent society where we’re more worried about partial nudity than we are showing someone getting shot in the head.”

Social media exists to connect people, but in a lot of ways, it leads to social isolation. It would be unreasonable to ask individuals to dwell on every misfortune that happens in the world, but asking for sensitivity and consideration is more than justified.

Chan is a journalism freshman from Sugar Land.