Social media and the death of empathy

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    The other day I read on Huffington Post a piece by Subhash Kateel where he addressed the Rudy Eugene attack on Ronald Poppo, the attack the media has dubbed, the “Zombie Apocalypse.” Kateel makes a very good and very serious point about how sadly this tragedy reflects on untreated mental illness, and how the state has failed these people.

    Kateel points out that “Florida is the second to worst state in the country when it comes to funding mental health services. Of the 325,000 people with persistent and severe mental illness, only 42 percent receive treatment.”

    About 12 years ago, I worked on a story about the mentally ill in a prison in Texas. It was clear how the system was turning away from treatment and toward incarceration. In essence, we’ve turned our prisons into mental institutions. They are no different than the inhumane insane asylums that flourished at the turn of the 20th century.

    But despite these issues, what really bothered me were the comments people left on the above mentioned article. Suddenly, we’re all experts. Yes, our opinions count. But where is the empathy?

    Social media

    What is social media doing to our empathy?

    The more I read comments on online articles, from nonsense about the Kardashians to something as serious as mental illness, people seem to respond with shortsighted, stupid and downright mean comments.

    There are more than 4,000 responses to a Yahoo article about Taylor Swift and John Mayer, yet only 400 to an article about Syria blocking U.N. inspectors trying to assess the recent massacre in that country. WTF?

    I suppose it makes sense that in the age of social media, everyone is addicted to the nasty and ridiculous videos on Socialcam and Youtube. But do we really need to see a guy hitting his girlfriend? How about a giant python eating a security guard?

    Yet the world seems to be watching nonstop. We revel in other people’s misery and misfortune. We find the grotesque, mean and the revolting, irresistible. What gives?

    I’ll admit, I do watch some of the videos, and I do feel curious about what it would be like to see a man being eaten by a snake. I suppose it’s like slowing down at the scene of an accident to see if we can catch a glimpse of blood and guts. But where is this leaving us as a people?

    Is social media changing our social morals, and causing us to forget about empathy? It seems that what sells, what becomes popular, what “trends,” is not usually what is important. As a matter of fact, it’s usually crap. The more bizarre or grotesque, the better the chance of it going viral. Therefore, social media outlets and TV are shifting to include more crap because that’s what people seem to want. We are sinking to the lowest common denominator.

    For the first time in our history, we have control of our search and choice of the media and information we consume. And we’re making some pretty low and stupid choices. I think this says a lot about us, and it kind of makes me ashamed. Just check out this ridiculous video of Megan McCain on the Daily Beast video fueling this fire of idiocy. This is the daughter of Sen. John McCain. He must be so proud.

    Yeah, ignore global warming, the slaughter of women and children in Syria or the Euro-zone crisis. Go get your gun and get ready for the Zombie Apocalypse. Forget empathy. Mocking the misfortune of others is a lot more fun, right?

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