Is Digital Empathy Broken?

Digital empathy refers to the ability to understand and share the feelings and experiences of others in online or digital environments. It involves the use of digital communication technologies (mostly through modern social networking platforms) to connect with others — and to express empathy, kindness, and understanding.

My intent with this post was not to write something political, but more as an observation on the problems with online discourse. I’ve spent almost 20 years of my career within the collaboration technology space, and am concerned about the trends that we’re seeing within many online communities.

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

In the modern digital world, people interact with each other through various platforms, such as social media, messaging apps, emails, and video conferencing tools. These interactions can sometimes lack the emotional depth and nuance that comes with face-to-face communication, leading to miscommunication and misunderstandings. Digital empathy seeks to bridge this gap by incorporating emotional intelligence and human connection into digital interactions.

It involves recognizing and respecting other people’s perspectives, emotions, and experiences, even when they differ from our own. It also involves actively listening and responding to others in a way that acknowledges their emotions and validates their experiences. This can be done through various means, such as using emoticons, expressing compassion, and actively engaging in conversations. You don’t have to agree with other people, but you should not use differences in opinion and life experiences to demean, belittle, or disparage others.

Digital empathy is an increasingly essential skill in today’s digital media-obsessed world. Having empathy for other human beings is at the core of building meaningful relationships, communicating effectively, and contributing positively to online (and in-person) communities.

We seem to be living in an era where tolerance for differing opinions is at an all-time low, especially within the discourse (if you can call it that) within social platforms. So….is digital empathy broken?

Digital empathy is not inherently broken, but it can be challenging to practice effectively in some digital environments. This is because online communication platforms can sometimes be hostile, anonymous, or lacking in the cues and context needed to accurately interpret others’ emotions and intentions.

For example, online comment sections and social media can often be breeding grounds for negativity, hostility, and trolling. This can make it difficult to practice digital empathy in these environments, as people may feel disinhibited and more likely to engage in hurtful behavior.

Not surprisingly, digital communication can be prone to misinterpretation due to the absence of nonverbal cues such as body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. This can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunications, making it harder to build empathetic connections with others online.

Despite these challenges, it is possible to practice digital empathy effectively by being mindful of our online interactions, actively listening to others, using appropriate language and tone, and expressing empathy and understanding when appropriate. It is essential to recognize that even in the digital world, we are interacting with other human beings who have their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and to treat them with kindness, respect, and compassion.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and M365 Apps & Services MVP, and an award-winning product marketer and technology evangelist, based in Silicon Slopes (Lehi), Utah. He is the Director of North American Partner Management for leading ISV Rencore (, leads content strategy for TekkiGurus, and is an advisor for both revealit.TV and WellnessWits. He hosts the monthly #CollabTalk TweetJam, the weekly #CollabTalk Podcast, and the Microsoft 365 Ask-Me-Anything (#M365AMA) series.