Brenner Jones: Social Media, An Empathetic Community

Although social media can be harmful, the benefits of social media far outweigh the negatives that come along with it. One of the biggest benefits of social media is how easily people can connect no matter how far away they might be. As a result of social media’s global platform, everyone can remain constantly in touch. By being able to connect with people with similar interests, social media has created an empathic environment. Usage of Social media is growing at an astronomical rate. Now with mobile devices, accessing social media has become as easy as few clicks. As of 2010, Americans spent nearly a quarter of their time on the Internet on social networking sites. As a result of the large chunk of time spent on social media, our youth are being raised in a totally different environment than their parents. This new environment is changing the way today’s generation is being raised. With a large amount of the day being taken up with social media, today’s kids are interacting more online than ever before. As a result of more time being spent on social platforms, children are spending less time interacting on a more personal level, as a result this is affecting the interactions shown by our youngest generation, but not in a harmful way.

Our youngest generation is the first generation to have access to the internet from the day they were born. With the internet being around for the entirety of their lives, we are beginning to see it shape the way they interact with one another. Children are growing up having access to social media at any time with all of the new innovative technology. With tablets, phones, laptops, and other internet devices growing in their capabilities, it is beginning to form our future. Valkenburg and Vossen created an experiment to test whether or not “social media may especially offer opportunities to practice cognitive empathy skills. In the present study, we hypothesize that social media will have a positive effect on affective empathy”. Valkenburg and Vossen collected data from September and December 2012, T1, and compared it with data collected between September and December 2013, T2. When the data from T1 was compared to the data from T2, Valkenburg and Vossen found that “at both time points social media use was positively correlated to affective empathy and cognitive empathy, but not to sympathy. Furthermore, girls used more social media and scored higher on affective empathy, cognitive empathy and sympathy both at T1 and T2”. Valkenburg and Vossen have determined that social media is shaping our future generations to be more empathic. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Facebook, for example, offers a great space to post feelings and emotions. Online, friends tend to be more supportive and comfort those who are distressed, laugh with those who are giddy, smile with those who are happy, and cry with those who are sad. Other platforms such as twitter also create a space for security and its users display a great deal of empathy.

Georgia Southern University also completed a survey to test for empathy on social media. Franklin M. Collins of Georgia Southern completed a study in which he surveyed participants who use social media and monitored their use of social media. Collins found that “[t]he more an individual engages in conversation with others online, the higher their scores of empathic concern”. This empathy doesn’t stay just online, it transfers over into the real world. Dr. Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University, found that “virtual empathy was positively correlated with real-world empathy. This means that the empathy you see on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media site, tends to transfer over into the real world. Social media has conditioned its user to be more empathetic. Dr. Rosen, in an interview stated that there is not a lack of empathy on social media at all, it is just not empathy in your tradional sense. Later in that same interview, Dr. Rosen said “Now we’re all so open and seemingly somewhat honest behind the screen,” he said, “so there’s more opportunity to observe it and go, ‘Hey, this friend of a friend is going through a gender-change operation, and I see it on his Facebook page.’ We have more of an opportunity to build up a feeling of fairness and equality because we’re exposed to much more of everybody’s lives now.” Although the internet keeps people physically apart, it brings the community together. Young America has become much more accepting. For an example Dr. Rosen credits a good amount of the acceptance of same sex marriage to social media and interactions on social media. Back in 2014 49 percent of people thought there was nothing wrong with same sex marriage, and there was a sharp increase in acceptance by young Americans, eighteen to thirty four year olds.  Collins goes on to say later in his study that “ [p]eople who reported devoting more time on Facebook, also reported greater empathic concern” for their friends on facebook. Facebook is a hotspot to find people who are relatable to you. All it takes to get in touch with someone who has common  interests is a couple of click. As a result of connecting with similar people, it has become very easy to be empathetic for someone.

As a result of empathy on social media, I do not find social media to be harmful. Although there are people who struggle with addiction and need help, I do find that social media is a great tool and will continue to shape our coming generations. Like Dr. Rosen, Valkenburg, Vossen, and Collins have claimed, Social media has created a very empathic generation and it will continue to shape our future generations.