In a twitter feed of narcissism, on a Facebook page of negativity, we need only one compassionate post to remind us that social media is not inherently bad; for at the twiddling thumbs of the benevolent, the platforms turn to gold. Here are eight examples of how social networking sites are used as a conduit for positivity;
Facebook’s Safety Check
Facebook noted the extent to which it was used in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster and decided to create a tool which made contact easier. Safety Check allows people living in or visiting a disaster struck area to notify their loved ones that they are safe and to check on others in the affected area. The November Paris attack was the first time it was activated for a crisis other than a natural catastrophe, and it was activated again following the attacks in Brussels.
On the night of the Paris terror attacks, the hashtag #PorteOuverte (open door in French) started trending on Twitter – Parisians safe at home were offering shelter to those who needed a place to stay. #StrandedinUS also started trending as Americans opened their homes to French travellers stuck in the US after their flights to Paris were cancelled. More recently, the hashtag #OpenDoor was used in the Brussels attacks for the very same purpose.
RedditGifts is an online gift exchange scheme that began in 2009. It started as a Secret Santa program to spread the holiday cheer, but has since expanded to year round themed exchanges. It also hosts charity exchanges where people buy gifts for those in need with no expectation of receiving one in return. From a gift giver who sent a broke college student $1500 in cash to another who sent their match on a cruise, complete strangers from around the world strive to bring happiness to one another. One user described being a part of RedditGifts as being a part of something “huge and magical”. The secret according to the founder is that money can buy happiness when you spend it on another person. It is about giving, about community, and about bringing more joy to the world.
Random Acts is a non-profit organisation “that is aiming to conquer the world, one random act of kindness at a time.” It encourages compassion by hosting events throughout the year dedicated to performing random acts of kindness and by rewarding people who are ‘caught in the act’ of altruistic behaviour. It also helps community based programs by providing them with the resources to fulfil their dreams and putting those who want to make a difference in touch with them. It began with a tweet and is now expedited by social media.
MindDrive is an after-school non-profit in Kansas City which seeks to help high school students who are ‘slipping through the cracks of the traditional education system.’ It favours experiential teaching methods and is most well known for its car programme, which teaches students about electric cars and encourages them to design and rebuild their own.
In 2013, a group built a car fueled by social media interactions. It was programmed to move forward when the Arduino recognised specific behaviour on the sites, for example, a mention or retweet on Twitter, the hashtag #MindDrive on Twitter and Instagram, liking their Facebook page, and watching their YouTube video. Each of these converted into a certain number of watts.
The students then used their ‘social fuel’ to drive from Missouri to Washington D.C so that they could meet with elected officials to raise awareness about the benefits of hands-on, innovative learning.
In the summer of 2014, Facebook was dominated by videos of people dumping buckets of ice water over their heads – and it wasn’t because of the heat. #Ice Bucket Challenge is a social media campaign used to raise awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or ‘Lou Gehrig’s Disease’. People challenged had 24 hours to accept, upload a video, and dare three more people to join in. Donations to the ALS association were encouraged but not compulsory.
More than 17 million people uploaded their videos to Facebook, and the videos were watched by 440 million people a total of 10 billion times, according to the official website. The donations – which came to approximately $220 million – funded research in the disease and facilitated the search for treatments and a cure. It is now an annual event and will take place every August until a cure is found.
Toms’ One Day Without Shoes
Footwear company Toms is known for its philanthropy, namely its one for one purchase scheme, where for every pair of Toms purchased, the company donates a pair to someone in need. ‘One day without shoes’ is its annual campaign to generate awareness of the impact a pair of shoes can have in a child’s life. The public are normally asked to spend the day without shoes to show others the importance of having them, but in 2015 the campaign went to Instagram. From the 5th to the 21st of May users – not just TOMs customers as before – were asked to take a picture of their bare feet with the hashtag #withoutshoes, and for every picture posted, Toms donated a pair of shoes.
Meal for Share
ABACO, a Colombian food bank association, decided to take advantage of society’s odd dining habits, whereby we share a picture of our food before tucking in, to feed those living in extreme poverty. It created an Instagram account, THE social platform for #foodporn, and posted pictures of the meals the poor eat on a daily basis. Users were then invited to ‘buy’ these meals by donating money towards the fight against malnourishment. The campaign both enlightened people about the severity of the issue and raised enough money to deliver 185 tons of food to the people who needed it the most.