Social Media and the Power to Do Good

As an avid user of most major social networks, my wide exposure to a myriad of posts, opinions, and retweets had me thinking that I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly that social media shines a light on. After all, I registered for Facebook as a 27-year-old back in 2007 to overcome the age minimum in order to play Farmville — little did I know what I was getting myself into.

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Yet each day, I continue to find myself intrigued by the latest social media trend, many of which are inspired by real-life events.

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Just the other day, I opened my phone to this text from my 16-year-old brother. If you knew anything about my brother, you’d know that 99.9% of the time spent on his phone is sending an ugly Snapchat, posting it to Finsta about how annoying his teacher/brother/other is, and then Snapchatting again that he posted a new Finsta and to go like it. This cycle is pretty limited in scope and can happen several times a day. Real productive, right?

So when I got this text, I had to think of the backstory. But sure enough, there wasn’t any ulterior motive; he was genuinely concerned for the people of Texas and Louisiana, and he wanted to do whatever he could in his power to help the hundreds of thousands of victims.

 

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By the time he sent me the link, he raised over $600 within 24 hours from friends, family, and people he didn’t even know. At the time of writing this post, he’s raised over $1,200, his campaign has been shared 45 times on Facebook alone, and he’s enlisted the help of our aunt’s law firm to match all contributions made, effectively doubling his total to over $2,500! Not too shabby, especially coming from a 16-year-old behind a computer screen.

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However, the philanthropic act of raising money for natural disasters (or any other cause, for that matter) is not new, nor is it only made possible by social media. Just the other day, Timehop reminded me of the lemonade stand (remember those?) my neighbors and I set up to support victims of Hurricane Katrina back in 2005 (I’m far right in the photo, and my brother is far left). The same premise of joining forces to do good powered our lemonade stand: it involved similar people, who donated to the same organization (The Red Cross), to aid victims of the same kind of natural disaster. What’s the biggest difference? Besides the “overhead” (a table, a poster board, makers, and some sandwiches) and a cash infusion from our parents to fund our street corner operation, our lemonade stand raised a measly $100 or so. Yet, the money we raised was a really rewarding feeling. On the flip side, however, it costs nothing to start an online fundraiser, send out a link, and ask friends to share it with their friends.

To that end, we can at least partly thank the power and sheer influence of social media on the success of my brother’s fundraiser. Sure, the $2,500 he’s raised so far doesn’t stand a chance against the >$70 billion in estimated damage (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/01/upshot/cost-of-hurricane-harvey-only-one-storm-comes-close.html?mcubz=1). However, the real value is where we all come together in the name of social media to do good.

This is what’s at the heart of fundraising site GoFundMe, whose mission is to “chang[e] the way the world gives.” In addition to my brother’s campaign, GoFundMe’s website is hosting countless other fundraisers for Hurricane Harvey, as well as newly-arriving Hurricane Irma. The outpour of support from people on their network is overwhelming, to say the least.

Make no mistake: unlike the correlation between fundraising and social media in general, the technology behind GoFundMe’s platform is vital to its success. This past semester in Prof. Gallaugher’s TechTrek West class, I had the opportunity to study Silicon Valley startup WePay, which powers the payment platform for marketplaces and platforms like GoFundMe. Their philosophy is simple as well: “make payments your platform’s strength.” When you combine the flexibility of WePay with the social leverage of GoFundMe, you create a philanthropic environment that’s truly contagious. And, when you make it easy for people to donate with a credit card wherever they are – as opposed to quarters for lemonade if you happen to pass by the stand – the feeling of empowerment and ease of access increases exponentially.

Social media has the power to reach all corners of the world. With great power comes great responsibility; when used sensibly, it can have an enormous impact. The case of Hurricane Harvey and my brother’s online fundraiser serves as one heartwarming example of how social media can be used for good. In Prof. Kane’s class this semester, I hope to further explore how the use of social media – both at the micro and macro levels – can advance society and improve lives in a meaningful way.

 

If you’re interested in learning more about my brother’s campaign, you can donate (or not) here: https://www.gofundme.com/hbma9u-hurricane-harvey-relief

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Further reading directly related to Hurricane Harvey and social media for good (thanks to Michaela Thompson for sharing): https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/social-media/social-media-becomes-savior-hurricane-harvey-relief-n796701

4 comments

  1. Social media is a good platform for people to do something good. I joined an animal welfare organization a few years ago via Facebook. It really helped those poor cats and dogs finding new homes!

    Meanwhile, social media can be used badly. For the Hurricane Irma, people faked the pictures of the hurricane to post on FB for attracting eyeballs!

    Definitely we need to think about how to control the negative things on social media when we do good things at the same time.

  2. Crowdfunding is such an interesting development – basically anyone can be a fundraiser and do good now. One of my big concerns in situations like this is trying to determine worthy causes. Especially around things like Hurricane Harvey when there’s so much need but so many people pop up – how can you tell which ones are genuine? I’d rather give to someone on the ground than the Red Cross, but I know that the Red Cross is there for sure. There are definitely pros and cons to this technology, though I believe the pros outweigh the cons.

  3. I’m on @adrienneis6621‘s side on this one. While raising money online for worthy causes is great, how do I know your brother isn’t going to use it for beer money? Indeed my own kids set up a lemonade stand for “charity,” only that their idea for charity is to fund their trip to Disney world (I made them give it to a local charity, though).

    The counter one, though, is Pete Frates Icebucket challenge, which raised enough money to actually make demonstrable progress towards a cure.

    1. That’s a very valid point both you and @adrienneis6621 raise. Thankfully, with GoFundMe in particular, the company guarantees that donations make it into the right hands. There are far too many “charity” cases that benefit the scammer-in-chief, so I’m glad they take such a firm stand, given they are purely a fundraising website.

      I’m still in awe of the traction the Ice Bucket Challenge got, even to this day! That’s another incredible example of the public awareness of – and all of the donations received towards – ALS, thanks to social media.

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