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Being selfish is doing good

01/09/2014
©Time Magazine 09/05/2013

Social media is self-centred.

Cue riots, reasoned argument and case study evidence to the contrary from those defending social media use.  Please hold fire for a second though as I’m not attacking social media (this is a blog after all).  I’m thinking about what gets coverage, what fundraising campaigns really take off and why.

This year has seen the phenomenal financial success of the Ice bucket challenge (over $100m!) and the no make-up selfie and they both have two things in common:

  1. They are incredible social media, sharing phenomena
  2. They are all about individuals being the centre of attention (the word “selfie” is kind of suggestive here)

According to an interesting blog by Claire Slevin at Like Charity, one of the biggest drivers to social media being used for fundraising is giving avid users something they value highly… content for their Facebook page, Instagram profile or Twitter feed.

This implies that said audience is motivated by shouting about themselves, sharing what they’re doing, putting themselves out there etc etc etc, and loving the fact that charity campaigns give them another excuse to do so.  I think there’s something in this point of view; not positive, negative or judgemental but definitely observational.

It makes want to look at exactly how many people who took part in the ice-bucket challenge and plastered themselves all over social media actually donated… of those that I know personally it’s no more than 50%.  So what were they doing?

There’s a whole thesis in here on why social media users are motivated to get involved in campaigns and why it’s as popular as it is.  I’m certainly not qualified to conclude anything but I suspect that there is a lot more “me, me, me” than altruism within these social media campaigns.  When we see more selfless-ies than selfies, maybe things will change.  When campaigns that revolve around doing something because it’s the right thing to do, not because we get a moment in the digital spotlight, are as successful as the ice bucket challenge, perhaps I’ll think differently.

But then again, how will I know that it’s happening as it won’t be shared through social media?!?

Ultimately, even the motivation is inherently self-centred, who cares when this much money is being raised to support some outstanding causes?  In the short-term I can only see upsides.

In the longer term, I’m not sure what this says about our society and our ability to collectively think beyond next month’s meme.  I’m hoping that this perhaps selfish side of our psyche will remain a part of what we are and not become the mainstay the minute Google works out a way of plugging YouTube directly into our minds.  But that’s a bit deep and meaningful for a blog.

Did you take part in one of these challenges?  And, if you don’t mind sharing, why and did you donate?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 09/09/2014 1:36 pm

    I didn’t take part, Kevin – I’m generally not a ‘joiner’ with things like this, but that doesn’t put me in the nay-sayers camp, either. In answer to your other questions – is this showing us who we are? are we just rushing from one crowd-behaviour to the next? I would hazard that the answer is yes, very probably.

    Of course there are lots of campaigns out there that succeed because they trigger the feeling that it is ‘the right thing to do’ – think Greenpeace and Save The Arctic, the Gaza appeals, etc. but they rarely get such widespread and rapid adoption as #nomakeupselfie or the #icebucketchallenge.

    The bigger the world becomes, the more our sense of scale is challenged by the hugeness of everything, the more we all seem to grasp at chances to be seen, to be important, even if just for 30 seconds or so. That’s how we are.

    We’re unlikely to change as the world continues going in this direction, but if good can come from selfishness – if you’ll pardon the pun – perhaps the end justifies the memes?

    • 09/09/2014 4:17 pm

      Philosophical and practical in equal measure Adrian, thanks for your thoughts (and the pun).

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