Callousness is an ailment we all suffer from.
At times, it’s a simple failure to notice the pain of others. Often, it’s a sign of our own preoccupation, and I’m as guilty as anyone of forgetting to take notice. Self-focus is baked into our DNA, including the times we fail to show empathy to others and spend way too much time bragging about our own talents and abilities.
Recently, social media revealed how a lack of empathy works in real-time, and also how users on Twitter are at least attempting to do some self-policing.
On Monday night, I was watching the Bills versus Bengals football game when Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field. For most of us, seeing something like that makes us feel great empathy and compassion for a 24-year-old football player who is still in critical condition. I went right to prayer when I first noticed it was a serious, life-threatening injury. Sadly, that was not the reaction of many Twitter users.
I won’t get into the vaccine debate, because most of those tweets were meant to call attention to a pet topic, at the expense of someone who was driven off the football field in an ambulance. Instead, I did notice a few posts like this one:
This reaction from another Twitter user says it all:
It’s obvious the football game was completely pointless after the injury. I don’t care if the game is ever played. What I care about is the injured player.
Social media has a long history of allowing half-baked opinions to thrive and even propagate. At last count, the original tweet above has well over 4,000 retweets and almost 45,000 likes.
However, Twitter is also pretty good at self-policing. Many of the comments on that tweet are calling out the original poster as callous and inconsiderate. Some are suggesting the sportscaster who made the tweet should be fired.
If social media is able to self-police to some extent, it hasn’t shown an ability to throttle the half-baked opinions or block them before they go viral.
I’ve maintained for many years that this is intentional. The posts that are crazy, uninformed, baseless, or outright false often get the most traction, which means more eyeballs and more ad revenue for the social media platform.
Unfortunately, it also means callousness is running rampant. Just one quick glance at a few other tweets about Damar Hamlin reveal that there are quite a few fringe opinions out there. I won’t give them the spotlight.
I would like to see some progress. If an AI chatbot can write social media posts, resumes, and even computer code, why can’t there be some way to alert us more about callous posts? Or for the platform itself to read tone and intent in a tweet and suggest modifications? I’d sign-up for that.
As I mentioned, I’m guilty of not showing empathy at all times. If Twitter could somehow improve its automation and artificial intelligence, spotting callous tweets at a time when the only proper reaction is empathy, we’d all benefit.
We won’t ever learn empathy from bots, but those who spread half-baked opinions might not get as much traction. What will get more traction? Hopefully, the support and prayers for those who are suffering the most.
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