Empathy Through Twitter?

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Twitter has been discussed as a ministry tool, as a way to create buzz about upcoming events, send members encouraging words, meet potential new members, or even to discuss the worship service during the service itself. (Just do a search for “Twitter” on this site and you’ll find some excellent information.) But what about Twitter as a way to develop empathy for others?

Perhaps you've noticed that people’s opinions can completely turn around when something happens to them, or someone close to them. For example, a politician may argue strongly against funds for a program for disabled persons, but when he himself or someone in his family becomes disabled, rights for the disabled becomes a top priority. Or maybe it’s gun control, or women in office, or immigration, or racial discrimination, or ….the list goes on.

The other day I heard an interview with Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter. He said, “All of these people getting connected and sharing their information with each other means that I can be waiting in line at the grocery store and I can take out my iPhone and I scan the tweets and I can see what's happening halfway around the world, and I can put myself in the shoes of someone who is trying to overthrow an oppressive regime, and I can suddenly have an empathy with that person that I would not otherwise necessarily have had.”

Do you think he’s right? Can we become empathetic to those who are different from, or have different opinions than, ourselves by “getting to know them” through technology such as Twitter? I think reading can help us to better understand people. When I read a good book about characters who are very different from me, if the story is well written and the character development is good, it does seem to make me more sympathetic to them and their situation. Can Twitter do the same? Or other types of technically-enabled relationships? What do you think? Do you have any examples of this? Any ideas?

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Great question Mavis,

Let me start by saying that Twitter is a great tool to get to know people.  It gives you an opportunity to find out what's happening in their life, get to know their opinions, and get to know them as a person 140 characters at a time.  I fully think that Biz Stone is correct, we can be empathetic (and get to know people) over forums such as Twitter.  

Twitter is often used as a conversation between people, a place to build rapport, get to know each other, and share each other's information.  It can be used to connect people with services, connect people who are like one another, and to increase your knowledge in the interests you have.  

For example, I have a business that I have started recently and I am engaging with people online to grow that business and build my brand.  Through the use of Twitter I have made some incredible connections and friendships, and learned a lot about what is happening in my community.  Twitter has been a great conversation started for me to meet people and grow in my knowledge, interests, and expand my business.  

Twitter can be escpecially useful for getting to know someone online, and then strengthening that relationship by meeting up with each other offline (or at events).  When you first meet offline, you are already three steps ahead in strengthening that relationship and building a bond together.  I think the church could do amazing things by using social media (other sites as well as Twitter) because it would make them more aware of what was happening in the community they are in, and be able to engage with people to establish how the church could help them.  

But that's just my 2 cents :) 

 

Jason 

@jasondyk 

Community Builder

Thanks, Jason. Great input, worth much more than just 2 cents! :)

When people say, as you did, that they've made connections and friendships through Twitter, I am curious as to exactly how that happens. I've used Twitter a bit but haven't made it a regular thing, at least not yet.

How exactly, on Twitter, do you connect with people you don't know and start getting to know them?

Mavis, 

Twitter is defintely something that the more that you put into it the more you get out of it.  I connect with people in the same way I connect in real life.  Someone says something that interests you and you respond to them.  Or, for example, you see someone went for an interview and you ask them the next day how it went.  Little things like that.  Really it works the same way  as beginning a relationship in real life.  When you first meet someone in real life, you greet them, and you start a conversation (a lot of times based on something they said), and the conversation grows from there and it starts a relationship!  

For my business I targeted specific people within the community that were influencers (had a lot of Klout and followers) and started following local Hastags (http://support.twitter.com/entries/49309-what-are-hashtags-symbols) to find out what was happening within the community that I could get involved with/meet people.  When someone tweeted something that was of interest to me then I would respond (the same way I would offline) and a conversation would begin.  

Hopefully this answers your question, if you have any more I would be happy to answer them!  Or you can also ask me on twitter (http://twitter.com/#!/jasondyk) and we'll have a conversation :) 

 

Jason

Community Builder

Jason, I'm going to look you up for sure. Thank you for the practical advice. Very helpful.