When dealing with online hate, lead with empathy

Leading with Curiosity, TED Circle

Have you ever received hate online? 

During [email protected]’s very first TED Circle event, co-hosted by our friends from [email protected], guests from 5 different countries tuned in to unpack their thoughts about online hate and identify productive ways to deal with it. 

Guided by the “Leading with Curiosity” theme, we watched a powerful TED talk by Dylan Marron entitled “Empathy is not Endorsement”. In it, Dylan unpacks how “the flip side of success on the internet is internet hate” and how, although it’s cathartic to laugh at negative comments, it’s not a very effective way to deal with them. 

So, Dylan developed a unique coping mechanism. He started calling his hate-comment writers and asking them a simple question: Why did you write that?

TEDxYouthCapeTown TED Circle, Dylan Marron

He admitted,

Empathy [...] is a key ingredient in getting these conversations off the ground, but it can feel very vulnerable to be empathising with someone you profoundly disagree with. So I established a helpful mantra for myself. Empathy is not endorsement.

In our discussion on 26 September 2020, our audience members elaborated on the topic at hand, agreeing that while hate is hurtful, it’s important to manage our emotions and the way in which we respond. 

Mizue, from Japan, reminded us,

[Spreading] hate isn’t new. People used to gossip [in person]. And now they do it online.

What’s missing is accountability. - Teri, Cape Town

People easily go on the defense [when they get negative comments or experience someone who disagrees with them] because they feel attacked, Lucinda from Cape Town pointed out. It’s important to educate instead of hate.

Posting hate comments also says a lot about the kind of person you are. If people are more aware of that, internet hate may decrease. - Julia, Tokyo

Life is too short [to focus on hate], said Carmen, a psychologist from Spain. I know there is trauma, shock, grief attached to it but I don’t want to focus my life on that.

The golden takeaways from our discussion can be summarised by two comments from our guests: 

Think twice or thrice or even more before spreading hate. - Juwon, Tokyo 

It’s our role to send a message of kindness, compassion and empathy. - Carla, Cape Town


Join the conversation by interacting with [email protected] and [email protected] online and watch Dylan Marrons talk to hear more about how, sometimes, the most subversive thing you can do is speak with the people you disagree with - and not simply at them.