Service Done For Social Media

As BC students, service immersion programs are no stranger to our education. In fact, they often times coincide with our education, if not formally conducted in a classroom setting they do manage to provide learning experiences that coincide with our Jesuit values… you know, “men and women for others.” If BC hasn’t so gently pushed this value down your throat yet then you are lying.


There is a special importance to service trips for both selfless and selfish reasons. For example, service trips genuinely can make a positive difference for a community and individuals. Rebuilding a park for a community that was affected by Hurricane Katrina can restore hope for the community while also providing a child with an after school activity, a privilege many of us may take for granted. Service trips can also provide an opportunity to appreciate diversity, allowing people to experience a community other than their own, facing their similarities and differences. Furthermore, service trips allow people to develop connections with others they most likely would have never met. These connections can be made from people with completely different backgrounds and cultures through appreciating the fact we are all humans and we all have rights.


Building homes and raising spirits

While these factors can lead to beautiful personal development, there is an issue when the selfish reasons people go on service trips begin to outweigh the selfless, and social media seems to play a leading role in this imbalance.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I’m going to assume we all have witnessed an Instagram post illustrating the connections people have built on service trips. The posts usually show a service-goer surrounded by the people of the community in which they helped.

And while social media was created as a way to share and connect, in some instances it can create barriers and hatred. For example, a young woman named Jossa Johansson posted an Instagram hugging a young girl she formed a friendship while on a service trip to Kibera, Kenya. While it was a touching photo, her caption earned her some serious heat.

In breaking down this post there are a few things worth noting. The caption is addressing the girl seen in the photo, but logically speaking, we can guess that by no likely means will this girl ever see this “heartfelt” message. Maybe a less serious example is when you see a friend post a picture of their parent for their birthday, but if the parent doesn’t have an Instagram or Facebook, what is really the point? Are you just sharing a picture to portray yourself and relationships with others in good light? The Johansson post above provokes similar questions. Did Johansson post to share her experience and open the eyes of her followers to the mistreatment many young girls like the child in her post endure during their lifetime? Or did she post to perhaps let her users know what a great person she is dedicating time to those who need help?

In my opinion, posts about service trips can be done tastefully, sharing the experience without exploiting those one served. While I am not a fan of Johansson’s caption, I am not sure I believe that Johansson’s caption comes from a pompous place. Instead, I like to believe that her caption is rooted in pure ignorance.

While I am still developing my own opinion regarding sharing service trip experiences, I would love to hear classmate’s opinions. In general, how do you feel about the topic? More specifically, what is your opinion in regards to Johansson’s posts and others like her? Have you seen similar postings before?

Screen Shot 2018-04-10 at 12.50.25 AM.pngAs previously mentioned, Johansson is not the only social media user I have encountered publicizing a service experience. While most posts are less ignorant than Johansson’s, I believe the massive uproar her posts caused (one tweet calling her out went viral receiving more than 37,500 retweets and 82,100 likes in four days) speaks volumes about importance of sharing experiences in an appropriate way.  The appropriate way may take pausing even before capturing the moment being that, “the selfie takers may not realize that their posts, from the photo to the caption to the hashtags, can perpetuate stereotypes and rob the subject of dignity or privacy.” (NPR).

Especially in regards to the essence of a service trips, to serve and walk with others, I find it important to not use social media for a personal agenda, but to use it as an extension of one’s immersion trip. To share and not show. To inform and not act in vain.  





  1. katietisinger · ·

    Great post Tara – I have definitely thought a lot about this throughout m time at BC! I think this is a gray area and very dependent on the post, but I think just the act of talking about this and bringing it to light is so important in ensuring thoughtful, encompassing posts. I took a class last year called Telling Our Stories, where we learned about the powerful effects of storytelling. I think social media provides an amazing place to reach people and tell a story about the community we met, work we did, or experience we had. I think it is important to share this story and work to spread what we learned from our experiences to those around us, but I think this “telling” of the story is hugely important. I know I have on service trips I have been on I have been encouraged to wait a few weeks to post and to think through the post from the point of view of the people we worked alongside and of others in the community. Another new feature that I have been encouraged to use is the feature on Instagram where you can post multiple pictures. This allows you to post multiple pictures and work to create a more complete picture of the experience. I find this interesting because it shows the rippling and sometimes unintended consequences of results from implementing technology. I am sure Instagram did not create this feature in order to improve storytelling of service programs, but it can be used in that way.

  2. katherinekorol · ·

    Great post Tara, I’m glad someone addressed this topic. The concept that you are describing actually has a name – it’s called the white savior complex, and it’s exactly why photos like the example you showed get so much backlash. The underlying issue here is that when white people travel on a volunteer trip to a developing country, they take these photos to make the trip all about themselves. They use the trip as some big life-changing experience to validate their privilege and feel better about themselves by by posting a photo looking like a “hero”, rather than ensuring that they are actually helping the people in the photos help themselves. I don’t want to sound like these pictures are all bad, but I do think that they are dangerous. The ignorance in the girl’s caption proves that she didn’t learn a thing on her trip. It perpetuates dangerous stereotypes that really demean the culture of those people.

  3. mikecarillo111 · ·

    I loved this post and can’t stand the people that you’ve described. As @katherinekorol mentioned in the comment above, I’ve heard the white savior complex concept and it blows my mind how people can be so ignorant. During my time in undergrad I’ve noticed that the people who post these photos (generally girls (sorry)) tend to surround themselves with people who encourage this type of behavior and those people do it themselves. It tends to create a circle of ignorance that is actually somewhat mind blowing because unless someone addresses them in person, they will continually believe what they did and how the posted is correct and that there is nothing wrong with it. Additionally, as @katietisinger mentioned there is definitely a tasteful way to post about these experiences. Maybe instead of writing a letter to the girl who will never see the post, explain your trip in 2-3 sentences and then describe how followers can help, either by donating or to how to go on a trip like they did. I’m really glad this topic was addressed and it was an awesome post. Great job.

  4. Addison LeBeau · ·

    Great post Tara! I actually saw that Instagram and caption go viral, and I was stunned – I’m glad you’ve broken down everything that is wrong with it. I believe the “White Savior Complex” is all too present on social media today, when photos posted from service trips often rob the subjects of their agency, dignity, and privacy. Often these sort of photos among large groups of children from third world countries feature the white western volunteer in the center of the photo, allowing them to play the “main character” of the story that is presented. In an age of “fake news” permeating the internet, it is important that as volunteers on service trips we don’t play on stereotypes or oversimplifications of the truth with posts like the ones detailed in your blog.

  5. roarkword · ·

    I very much appreciated this post and this hi-lights a very real social problem. Posturing like you described can be both innocuous and insidious as it is almost exclusively self-serving. This is also extremely difficult to navigate given the distinctly different rules everyone applies to their own social media usage. There aren’t clear cut standards for decently or tastefully displaying oneself to the outside world; one person’s pride is another person’s showing off. This is generally why people play it safe and don’t try to be heavy-handed like this girl was with her blatant example of “white savior complex.” More and more, as a result, I’ve seen proper social media uses and practices offered as teaching subjects in order to prevent coming off as inappropriate or insensitive. I’m sure we’ll see more classes like this being taught given how quickly people get skewered for their on-line presence.

  6. Jobabes121 · ·

    This is very well said, and I commend your willingness to dive in a topic that can be sensitive to discuss. My friends who have gone to service trips mention how it was such a humbling experience where they actually learn a lot more than actually “serving” the “developing nations.” Let’s be honest, how much can one do in a week or so to have a significant impact on one community with completely different background and values? Yes, it is a very kind gesture and volunteering, but when the helpers lose the sense of humbleness and take the opportunity as a heroic action as many other colleagues pointed, it loses the point. No, it is a lot better for the person not to have the experience if it will give such pretentious crown to the servicer.

    Personally, I try my best to do bible study everyday. I enjoy listening to Christian music, and faith is such a big part of my identity. However, I am very cautious of posting my bible study or the takeaways I received from the verses (regardless of how “good” and “touching” I felt it was) on social media. I am even cautious of posting Christian music on my post. Not because I am afraid some people would judge me for my Christian value, but because I do not want to sound “holy” or “good” by doing something that I personally value high. If there is something so pivotal and intrinsic that I wish others must know as well, yes I believe posting on social media is great. However, if it is just another typical post where it’s to flaunt how great one is through a service trip or spiritual journey, it is better not to do it. Frankly, there is nothing to gain from post-service trip social media posts other than encouraging others to participate or sharing an important lesson from the trip. The rest falls into a self-flaunting exercise by default.

  7. oliverhowe14 · ·

    When I was reading this post all I could think of was a video I wasted the other day on Facebook of some random kid who filmed himself giving $200 tips to pizza delivery people, compiled them, and posted them online. That completely defeats the purpose of doing good things for others. The point is to be selfless and acknowledge that not everyone is as fortunate as you, and to learn what it is like to live with less. Not to go viral. It is great that people give back, but people who post about it for social media likes are trying to get more out of it than they give back. I went on a service trip to New Orleans this winter, and thankfully no one I went with tried to pull a move like this and just go for the attention. It was a great feeling to be able to help give houses back to those who lost their homes in Katrina, and it’s great that the people that I went with realized that and stayed with that.

  8. Really interesting angle on this phenomenon. I do think that we get wrapped up in our real world “filter bubbles” which often create some weird outcomes when expressed on social media. I think this person is simply guilty of a poorly worded sentiment that became the source of scorn. I refer back to the Ronson video from a few weeks ago.

  9. jamessenwei · ·

    So glad you blogged about this topic. I’ve been thinking about this topic on my own. Social media can be great for spreading awareness of social problems. Of course there are those who do service for the social media attention but there are two key points of discussion: (1) authenticity and (2) commitment. People who go on these trips should be at least authentic and better if they are both authentic and committed to the cause they are posting about. With the rise of social media, authenticity has become an important commodity and it is very important in making these types of post permissible from my point of view. If you are posting about it without authentic concern, then I think it’s pretty gross. Not sure if it is the case for the example. When posting your service trips to social media, it should also be way to show how commit you are to service. It should be an expression that you care deeply about something. I’m not sure if this is the case either for the example. On one hand, it seems heartfelt. On the other hand, if she was truly committed then she should make some conscience effort to establish a stronger relationship with “Dear child” rather than resigning to the never seeing him again.

  10. RayCaglianone · ·

    I find this whole phenomenon really frustrating, because I think that one of the primary purposes of service is to find solidarity with whatever community you are serving, to find the ways that you can relate through your shared humanity. I doubt that Jossa is a bad person, but her caption was incredibly condescending and whether she realizes it or not is arrogant as hell. Although addressed to that “child”, that caption is all about her. In service you hope to make an impact, however small; but to expect that your presence in her life will basically be the highlight of her existence is quite the assumption to make. That being said, I don’t think that service should not be on social media at all. For example, basically every major service organization has got social pages aplenty, and they can really help the organization’s mission reach more people than it ever would have before. I think it has been more of a net positive than a negative, but it’s obvious how the messages of services can be twisted.

  11. graceglambrecht · ·

    totally agree here Tara! I talk about this all the time for parents birthdays or holidays when we post about them without them even being able to see it. There’s definitely an aspect of social media that allows people to show the good and the bad (being honest here its usually the good and not the bad) and to show off the things that they do. Being able to explain and bring light to service programs that people should become involved with or help is important, but using it as a personal gain for showmanship is not. Definitely a fine line.

    I also think that there is an artistic element to this where its about explaining how something was life changing and showing the importance of that can be valid and can gain more attention to a program than a simple description. But it can also be perceived as very self serving and self centered. I’ll admit that I have done it before, but I think it can be problematic and I dont believe that I did it for anyone other than myself at the time. I think @katherinekorol really hit the nail on the head here.

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