Online relationships: empathy

While our online conversations can enrich our everyday life, sometimes these interactions leave us or our friends hurt and disappointed. Who hasn’t seen a photo or a comment of themselves online they didn’t like?

Lack of empathy, or the inability to consider another person's feelings, are commonly given reasons for why online relationships can easily sour.

In this article we consider why it might be harder to empathize with people online than it is in person.

Non-verbal cues

Conversations in person have many non-verbal cues such as body language, vocal tone and facial expressions that provide you with the context for what a person’s words really mean. Because you don’t have that same context in online conversations, imagining what the other person is feeling or how they are reacting may help you understand their point of view better and act more empathetically.

Social norms and expectations

We’re familiar with rules of etiquette and social norms that create expectations for how to act in different situations, when communicating face-to-face or on the phone. It’s worth remembering that online, these may not always be so obvious and that some people may be new to dealing with the nuances and subtleties of this type of communication.

Get your facts straight

If you’re unsure what someone is Tweeting, you could ask questions for clarity. Also, try to consider the context of the conversation, and ensure you have the whole story. 

If you find yourself in a situation where you think you have been misunderstood, consider how you can more clearly share your Tweet next time.


If you feel strong emotions towards a Tweet, especially anger, it can make sense to take a break before you respond in a hurtful way to somebody online. Physically separating yourself from your computer or mobile device can be a helpful way to cool off.

Setting the tone

Remember, you choose and control the tone and attitude of your own online activity. Your Tweets and posts can exemplify for how people interact with you and how they expect you to respond.