The disaster in Haiti has reverberated through the social networks. Personally, I found Twitter, Facebook and even some e-mail listservs dominated by calls for donations. Information — some of it true and some of it false — spread like wildfire. Text 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross. Text 501501 to donate $5 to Yele. One blogger decided to donate ten cents per comment on a charity-related post, leading others to discuss (and decline) doing the same.
One side of me thinks it’s fantastic. Social media is being harnessed to help people desperately in need. (Also, the general public has figured out how to text message, and the carriers are actually helping.) What could be bad about these developments? Another side of me finds the social media environment a bit distasteful. Can’t we do good things without bragging about them publicly? Can’t we donate to charities without asking others to support the exact same causes? Shouldn’t we all just do what we can, in our own way?
This highlights the less-pleasant side of social media. While we’re all in a great big conversation, all in this together, there’s also the undeniable whiff of competiton in the air. Who is doing more for Haiti? Who cares the most and has the most influence on others? What blogger isn’t doing what he/she should?
Ultimately, the good here outweighs the bad — money is going to good causes to help those desperately in need. Whether social media participants are acting out of genuine empathy, or the desire to raise their own status matters little. The only danger is that the status-seeking results in negative feelings, meaning some who would have donated, won’t, or won’t donate as much as they would have, otherwise. Hopefully that won’t happen very often.