By its very definition, empathy involves connecting with others to understand how they feel. Often, we show it by being with the involved people and embracing the sobbing survivors. But with the limitations and in times of tragedy and crisis, how do we show our empathy?
Through likes? Shares? Retweets? Virtual presence?
With social media and instant messaging platforms, friends and family are never too far away. We’ve never been more connected. Today, making a new connection is as easy as sending a Facebook request or clicking ‘follow’.
It’s true, social media is a reminder that the digital sharing age is as harmful as it is helpful.
But with all these disheartening online updates we receive on a daily basis, let’s focus on the bright side of what has happened. And expose the “helpful” contribution of social media.
Like other violent and horrific events before, last year’s bombing at the Ariana Grande show in Manchester sent many of us to social media for updates, solace, and attempts to be useful. At least in our own little ways.
People who were in the area checked in with Facebook to alert friends that they were safe. Some tried to help by retweeting missing person posts. All other shared information on where to go for free hotel rooms and how to donate food, blood, or cash. The rest expressed sympathy, grief, and solidarity by tweeting #prayforManchester, and replacing profile photos with images of the city or “I (heart) MCR” designs.
A year after it happened, people online are still showing care and taking time to remember the tragic event.
Dr Jennifer Goldbeck, director of the Social Intelligence Lab and a professor at the University of Maryland said, ‘before social media and the internet, a violent event like a terror attack might spark us to get together in person to talk about it – now we have this really great online space where you can find people who are trying to process the tragedy just like you are”.
Thailand cave rescue
Just as this column was written, all 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped for more than two weeks deep inside a flooded Thai cave have been rescued.
The Brits and other nations sent their people to assist the rescue operations. Elon Musk flew to Thailand with his SpaceX and BoringCo team of engineers. Then there are people who use Twitter to express their prayers to everyone putting their lives out there.
We all have to agree, after all these, social media can be an unexpectedly powerful resource as well. It has proven to be a double-edged sword. However, first-person accounts and experts warn of the emotional stress digital sharing can create for people hoping to leave their traumatic experiences in the past. But when done with care, it can create awareness and relief efforts in times of need.
A Boston University student, present during the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, stated, “social media serves as a virtual lifeline between friends, cities, states, countries”. In extreme crises, when phone lines ring busy for hours, social media provides us the opportunity to be with our loved ones.
Ultimately, the platforms give us a way of socialising that can bring a lot of reassurance. Helping us understand what we’re feeling, just by talking about it.
No one can gauge, not any social media metric tool, how far people can go to show strength and give comfort in moments of distress.
At the end of day, all we need is love. And yes, we can show love by liking, retweeting and sharing encouraging posts. Though it’s not something tangible, it somehow uplifts the affected ones.
From my end, *sending virtual and printed hugs to Thailand*.