Welcome to millennial hashtag activism. Unless you have lived under a rock for the last year or so you will have come across one, if not all, of the following: The 'No Make-Up Selfie', 'Necknominate', 'Movember', 'Dry January' and most recently 'The Ice-Bucket Challenge'. These viral charity awareness schemes are, as Arielle Pardes perfectly observed, 'narcissism masked as altruism' and I for one am not falling for it.
Each of these causes has, with the exception of Neknominate, raised a hell of a lot of money and raised at least some temporary awareness for some really important causes. But does 'awareness' really mean what we think it all means? Its formal meaning is 'concern about and well-informed interest in a particular situation or development'. But, as my friend who suffers from ALS observed, no-one he knows is any more well informed about the disease before or after they threw ice water over themselves.
The campaign has "done a mixed job raising awareness" said Rick Cohen, Communications Director for the National Council of Nonprofits. "Too many people are doing it with the fun element in mind and not connecting to the issue at all," he said. There are plenty of our friends who, if you ask them, don't even know what the letters stand for, who even quip that it means 'Age Location Sex' which is the quickest way to prove my point that really, we're all a bunch of narcissists thinly veiling vanity as philanthropy.
Yes, there's a serious amount of money being pumped into these causes as a result of these fund-raising memes but these forms of activism are very fleeting, often miss the original intention and fade into the void of the internet, when the diseases, cancers and wars all continue around us. These causes are good and anything that makes people give money to charity is good but the method for fund raising isn't as moral as it seems. Think about what's going to happen next year. Are people going to continue to donate to help continue research for ALS? Doubtful. Are ALS going to have to think up another creative viral in order to re-engage donations? That's a depressing thought. The main problem with this type of 'viral activism' is that it creates a lot of energy very quickly, which dies down by the time the next trend hits. While the Ice Bucket Challenge has raised money, its importance and priority will soon be meaningless to most, if they even engaged with the charity in the first place.
Before you all start fantasising about burning me at the stake, tell me, what were those Live Strong bracelets for? What happened to Joseph Kony? What was #bringbackourgirls about? Remember the red equals sign? All of these viral sensations had their time in the sun, had millions if not billions of people worldwide talking about their cause and doing their bit but are we still doing so now? Do you even remember what they were all trying to achieve? Did our efforts actually achieve anything?
The only awareness these virals are promoting, is self. People are predominately interested in attention. I think most people will struggle to admit it but their involvement first and foremost is about showing off with the charity coming second. Look at your Facebook timeline; people are competing to make their Ice Bucket Challenge better than other people's so-as to garner more likes, rather than more money. I saw one guy have a JCB pour litres of water over his head and his video has gone viral but do you know what hasn't gone viral? The number you need to text in order to donate - the guy with the JCB didn't even mention it. You all realise that the original idea for the Ice Bucket Challenge was to either dump water on your head or make a charitable donation. Or? Or. Therein lies the rub.
Most people will probably argue that the mere fact I'm writing about all this just further shows the awareness raised for the cause but that is unfortunately rather naïve; there does not need to be 'awareness' raised for these problems. They have existed long before us and they will continue long after. What we need to raise awareness for is that money still needs to be pumped into the medicine machine that is Science. If people want to raise genuine awareness, to teach and educate, they'd be posting statistics and symptoms and all those non-sexy parts that are the cruxes of these problems. But we don't want to share those, do we? They won't get likes or retweets or compliments or pats on the back for 'fighting the good cause', and you certainly can't use them as a profile picture because they're not, well, sexy. A profile picture of my friend having his bottom wiped by his dad because he has zero muscle retention in his bowls, or his hands for that matter, is not as engaging as me in perfect lighting, pouting with 'no' make-up on, pretending it's first thing in the morning. The truth is ugly and in 2014 we're finding every way thinkable to make charity tolerable.
The Telegraph last week reported that over £13 million has been raised in the name of ALS so far and I don't for a second want to take that away from the charities involved. But I would like us all to take a look at ourselves and ask why it takes a craze to donate, to care. Why do we need campaigns that entertain in order to be interested? All this fun is detracting from the reality: suffering. We need to decide to make sure these viral crazes stop becoming about self-promotion and social media exhibitionism and all vow to all give to charity in a less self regarding way in the future. Let's donate with humility. Let's not brag or try and convince each other how good we all are. Let's make sure we know what we are fighting for. Let's make sure our interest spans further than the length of a YouTube video. Let's educate. Let's stop making it about us and make it about them. But, for God sake, don't stop giving, ever. You gave for a craze, you can give without one.
I now nominate you all for the "give quietly to charity every month via direct debit from your bank account" challenge where by you do something for nothing, just because you can.
Donate (in private) to ALS by text message, texting ICED55 £(amount) to 70070