Having been working in social media and PR for a charity for the last few months, I know how much the ALS Ice Bucket challenge was at the forefront of everyone’s minds and twitter accounts. It was certainly a triumph of social media, a phenomena that spread around the world and raised awareness of a disease rarely discussed in the media. Willow Wood Hospice, where I work, has always taken patients with Motor Neurone Disease, known in the US as Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) so we were the benefactor of a number of Ice Bucket Challenges. (Incidently, the name of the challenge itself caused not a few issues, since the condition has different names in different countries. A number of people that I spoke to did not seem to realise that they were in fact the same disease.)
I recently read Matthew Sherrington’s ‘The ice bucket challenge has been the cause of a great deal of bitchiness‘ article, which raises some great points on how people doing the challenge might open them up to doing more charity fundraising, even if the cause itself did not leave a lasting effect on them. It’s an interesting look into what motivates people to do charity events through social media – Sherrington’s view is that a lot of the time it isn’t sheer altruism that motivates them – it’s the peer pressure, and the feeling of being part of something bigger and exciting that makes people want to be involved.
From a charity perspective this is both good and bad. These people are donating, and the charities are getting the money and exposure. Yet at the same time, there’s no lasting benefit, as the hive mind of hashtags moves onto something new and stops giving you money. Also, there may be little attempt to actually understand what your charity or cause is trying to do, and the message may be lost as the idea spreads. There’s also a worry of causes being ‘highjacked’ in some way – even accidently (See: when Cancer Research UK’s text donate number during #nomakeselfie was rather similar to Unicef’s) or people being encouraged to support a cause without looking into whether it is worthwhile. The spectre of Kony 2012 still looms large.
I also understand both the concern of charities who might benefit from hashtag activism but fear the potential backlash and the concern of onlookers, who feel it’s very easy to whip up online support for a cause on platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr, which are geared for the easy spread of catchy campaigns but not for the detailed information needed for an informed decision.
Sherrington’s article does address these issues, but most importantly he ends by asking reader not to be ‘snobby’ about people’s reasoning for donating to a cause – it is more important that the cause is supported in any way possible.