Creating empathy online can be a difficult. The fact that a screen is talking to you rather than being in the presence of a flesh and blood human means that there is a lack of physicality in the conversation. The lack of physicality does not bring the certain level of connection we have come to expect as humans interacting with other humans; if you instant message me telling me you are crying I will have a different physical and emotional response to actually being there while you are crying.
Though this disconnect may be true, there are ways to get around it. The TV has been around for much longer than the internet and they understand how to employ empathy rather effectively. Take the video below of an ASPCA commercial my Sarah McLachlan. It, by far, has to be one of the most depressing commercials/PSAs of all time and makes you want to go out and adopt every single animal in shelters. How did they accomplish that? For this ad they used a combination of music/sound and visuals that are meant to pull you in, no matter how stoic you may be. The music is slow and somber and the pictures and vignettes are slow and poignent. If anything, what you can learn from this ad is that pacing and visuals matter even when the message is simple.
Another good example of interactive media and empathy is the Mass Effect series. Throughout the trilogy of games, players make decisions that not only affect the outcome of a particular mission but also affect the lives of the player’s crew and those you encounter. When characters die, even minor characters die, it can be a heart-wrenching experience because the player builds up a rapport and deep relationship but talking to them and learning more about the characters through different interactions. Each interaction adds a new piece of information that allows players to emphatically feel sad when something happens to the character. Players begin to see how the relationships work and begin to understand the plight of someone who actually doesn’t exist. What someone trying to build empathy through interaction can learn from the Mass Effect series is that story and dialogue play a large part in establishing empathy; the small things and the big chunks of information come together to create an experience that people can easily connect to.