#WakeUpCall is the latest trendy hashtag campaign, and they all need to end

Giving to charity is great, but these celebrity driven campaigns are doing more harm than good

Lucy Hunter Johnston
Wednesday 08 October 2014 17:47

Oh goody. Here we go again. The world’s keenest philanthropists are selflessly lining up to cure all our ills from the safety of their bedrooms, armed only with a camera phone and a hashtag. First came the #nomakeupselfie, then we had the seemingly endless summer of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and now the worst elements of both have merged to produce #WakeUpCall.

The idea is that you post a picture of yourself in bed - softly lit and filtered to within an inch of its life a la #nomakeup - allegedly in the moments after you wake up, before nominating other noble friends to take part by donating £5 to UNICEF. The campaign was started by UNICEF ambassador Jemima Khan, to “help wake people up to the crisis for Syrian children”.

So far, Twitter has seen the artfully tousled mops of Tom Hiddleston, Nigella Lawson and Stephen Fry poking out from under their duvets, so if the Ice Bucket Challenge is anything to go by then it’s doubtless a matter of hours before the rest of the world follows suit. People love to share pictures of themselves online almost as much as they love to broadcast their altruism, so the PR genius who first dreamt up the idea of combining the two can congratulate themselves on a job well done. But I find the entire circus utterly maddening, because these campaigns actually end up doing far more harm than good.

Of course, charitable giving is a great and admirable thing to do. And if #WakeUpCall helps even a single Syrian refugee then that’s fantastic. But do we really need another tedious parade of self-promoting selfies to force us to donate? And what happened to quietly and discreetly donating to an organisation that you have personally selected? Instead, we are now encouraged to give publicly and brashly by our favourite celebrities, told that we must prove ourselves to be virtuous people by jumping on a meme bandwagon.

These new strategies whip up a herd mentality where we are pressured into donating just to be part of something, so we look good online, and make giving barely more than a popularity contest, where you have to be ‘nominated’ to take part in the latest craze. They encourage ridiculous sentimentality, the belief that if we join together - celebrity and mortal all doing something just humiliating enough to feel like a sacrifice - we can in some magical way create a better world, that the power of our shared selfies will make an actual difference.

In return, this leads some to believe that if you don’t share a picture of yourself without make-up, covered in ice or still bleary eyed from sleep, that you never want to find a cure for cancer, hate all ALS sufferers, and would rather that Syrian children starved to death, as if the things are in any way connected.

Fundamentally, these campaigns are nothing but rather soulless exercises in narcissistic armchair clicktivism, which allow the participant to feel a false sense of smug satisfaction. But the far more concerning issue is that they may actually be doing some damage.

People donate to the charity in question not because they have given any real thought to the global problems that concern them and where their money will go furthest, but because it is the one that happen to have the trendiest hashtag of the moment. Inevitably, these are linked to large organisations which tend to have big-name ambassadors attached, or well-financed marketing teams. The smaller, or less sexy, charities can’t begin to compete.

And research shows that charity is ultimately cannabilistic. Since money doesn’t appear in a vacuum, if someone is told to donate to one charity, this tends to come out of the pocket of another. Giving What We Can has found that for every $1 raised by these campaigns, 50c would have been given anyway. That is, money now raised by UNICEF means money that will be lost to other organisations.

And the fact is that all charities are not equal; your money will mean more to some than to others. The impact of a donation matters, and it should be a consideration. Of course it is important that money is donated to UNICEF, but your local hospice may need that support too. Posting a selfie and joining a social media movement does not mean you can tick your charitable giving box for that month.

So go ahead and donate as much as you like to this campaign, but do it because you want to, not because Stephen Fry told you to.

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