How to Increase Empathy in the Digital Era

These apps and websites make it easy to spread positivity online.

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In the last five years, cyber-bullying has seen a drastic increase, leaving parents, teachers, and communities concerned. Online communication has created a space for people to openly speak their minds, which means they can vent anonymously with little fear of repercussion. Without having to see another human’s emotional feedback loop, some individuals feel emboldened to speak hatefully, create fear and spread mistrust. More than ever, we need to cultivate empathy as a society.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It goes beyond simply feeling bad for someone’s misfortune. Instead, it entails mentally climbing into that person’s shoes to share in the pain and seek solutions together. Empathy helps us to become less judgmental, less frustrated, less angry and less disappointed. It teaches us patience and helps us gain a broader perspective of the world. When we empathize, we realize there are elements of connection with others—that we are not that different after all. And of course, when we empathize with others, they are more likely to empathize with us in return.

If we want empathy to stem the tide of online negativity, we need to fight fire with fire, by using online social influence to overpower the loud, squeaky wheels on message boards. Leveraging social influence is about increasing the strength and number of sources for a particular idea, like creating empathy. For instance, by simply watching and positively rating good content on the web, you send a powerful message to content creators and increase its visibility for others. To that end, here are some of my favorite online outlets for increasing empathy:

For all ages:

  • Humans of New York: This app showcases a catalog of photos along with the stories behind New York City inhabitants with the intent of raising a greater sense of empathy.
  • Soul Pancake: Watch inspiring, hilarious videos where people talk about stuff that really matters, such as spirituality, religion, death, love, life’s purpose and creativity.
  • Seize Your Moments: Peruse 10,000 beautiful “moments” collected from strangers by Dutch activist and world traveler Janne Willems, who uses art to inspire a global movement of trust, kindness, and happiness.
  • The Good Cards: This real-life game combined with an app was created to inspire people to spread happiness, one act of kindness at a time.

For kids:

  • BrainPOP: Explore a suite of videos, lessons, and games—all focused on teaching digital etiquette online.
  • Random App of Kindness (RAKi): This app was designed to increase empathy in teens using scientifically backed, interactive games.
  • Common Sense Media: Browse an entire search engine of curated apps and games designed to teach empathy, divided into age-specific categories.

Apps and websites such as these remind us that technology can be a magnifier, a force for positive change—but only if we choose to make that happen. The same technology that is used for bullying can now be used to lend a helping hand or a listening ear. For all the distractions, dangers and frustrations that current technologies bring into our lives, they can also be used for our highest purposes. This is the future of happiness, and it’s up to us to create it.

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