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What do struggling families, fake cancer patients, and Kanye West have in common? They’ve all used the internet to earn financial support. Social media are used for nearly all aspects of life in our modern world—communicating, creating, exploring, and now, even fundraising. Social networking sites are the latest platform for raising money for charities and individuals who claim to need the extra support. Many of these have been successful in raising a significant amount of money for their causes, especially when they are shared to social media.

GoFundMe is particularly popular as a fundraising tool that can be easily shared to Facebook and Twitter, and the main focus of this blog post.

Screen shot of GoFundMe’s website provided by Caroline Miranda

According to their website, the highest earning fundraiser is for a family with a four-year-old daughter with a terminal illness. In addition to their campaign with GoFundMe, they created a video and accompanying hashtag: #SavingEliza. The campaign raised over two million dollars during the course of twenty-nine months. When visited, the GoFundMe page for Eliza not only prompts one to donate, but provides the option to share the page with others via Facebook or Twitter.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 1.33.15 PM

Screen shot provided by Caroline Miranda

However, while there are many others like Eliza’s family who have successfully raised money for their legitimate cause, there are also those who fabricate their misfortunes and dupe strangers into “helping” them.

For example, one woman in the United States claimed to have cancer and raised twenty-five thousand dollars. According to the Daily Mail, the nurse posted misleading photos of herself to social media in order to make sympathizers believe she truly had ovarian cancer. In reality, the woman established this hoax to enjoy thousands of dollars worth of trips and gifts from benevolent strangers. Though she even went as far as to shave her head, authorities began to look into her case once they found out that there were no valid records of her diagnosis or treatment at any facility. More information about her case can be found here and here.

Most of the fundraising campaigns found on social media range from families asking for help treating their ill family members with expensive hospital or research fees to celebrities hoping those even richer than them will invest in their artistry. If you’ve been keeping up with the latest in celebrity news, you will know that I am referring to the notorious Kanye West.

Screen shot of Kanye West’s tweet provided by Caroline Miranda

  On February 14th this year, West took to Twitter to try to alleviate his allegedly massive  personal debt. He asked Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to “invest 1 billion dollars into Kanye West ideas”. While this did not elicit any real help from Zuckerberg, the Philadelphia Police have offered West a job to help pay off his debts, according to KTLA’s article. Four days after his initial tweet, the Philadelphia PD tweeted their suggestion to Kanye West:

Screen shot of the Philadelphia Police Department’s tweet provided by Caroline Miranda

The Philadelphia PD claim that West can “break even in a quick 500 years” if he were to join the police force. Perhaps Kanye should have created and shared a GoFundMe from the beginning, instead of using a rather rude and demanding tweet to his potential investor.

On the less extreme side, some students have even used social media to fundraise for study abroad trips, books, tuition, and living costs. GoFundMe even maintains an education tab in it’s sidebar of current trending causes.

Screen shot provided by Caroline Miranda

Students and school groups can create campaigns, and share them to Facebook or Twitter to earn the aide of friends and family. While most are not as urgent as the #SavingEliza campaign, they provide a space for students in need to earn their way through school and experience everything that they can, with the help of philanthropic strangers.

The main question asked about fundraising on social media must surround its legitimacy. How can users trust that they are not being scammed? Can those in need use social media to pressure their online communities into even further emotional and now financial support? Based on the incredible amount of money raised by so many using GoFundMe—over two billion dollars, according to their website—it seems that those in need are successful in raising money using their social media presence. As is clear by now, the digital age has completely changed our society. It is therefore not very surprising that fundraising has made an effective and apparently lucrative move to the online world. Perhaps this is why even the Girl Scouts have decided to sell their famous cookies online.

[Featured image courtesy of Tracy Olsen]

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2 thoughts on “Social Media Fundraising: Lucrative Scam or Philanthropy?

  1. I think that the prevalence of social media fundraising is also in some ways an attempt to rediscover community in the traditional sense. Social media fundraising reminds me of an idyllic 20th century American town where everyone knows everyone else. In these communities any misfortunes that befell a member of the group were rectified by the community’s generosity: neighbors came by with food and donations, shopkeepers forgave debts, et cetera (maybe this is an inaccurate depiction created by Hollywood and my parents’/grandparents’ nostalgia, but bear with me). Now, as populations become more urbanized, it seems as though community ties are not always as strong, and that money has become a more sensitive topic following the 2008 recession. People who post campaigns for college funds or medical treatment, then, might be attempting to recapture this environment, while also accommodating for the modern world by using online identities to distance themselves from their donators (to avoid ‘personally’ asking for money) or, conversely, make connections (for example, though NYC is not really a community, hearing of a campaign from someone in NYC might still evoke a feeling of camaraderie).

    However, attempting to find a community is heavily tied to your questions of legitimacy. Since these are not existing communities, there is always that question of is this person who they say they are; is this a real need. The social media aspect of the fundraising may allay this a little- as we’ve discussed in class, shared connections increase a sense of trust- but for many viral campaigns, it seems that they often spread without any fact-checking before the individuals donate and hit “share.”

  2. Social media is truly a reflection of our own interactions and realities in the physical world. Perhaps the only difference between the physical world and social media, is that everything posted or created on social media can be done in a matter of seconds and its results are eventually amplified to some extent. I believe that any issues that we encounter on social media, whether they are related to privacy, security, or networking are not caused by social media and its design, but by human nature. Any problem that you may encounter online, you may encounter in real life too.
    Your credit card can get stolen while you’re walking in the streets, and it can also be stolen by some hacker online. You might be deceived by someone fancy car into thinking their rich when in fact they online rented it for a day, and you can also be deceived by someone profile picture on Facebook where they are in a fancy car. Some people put an effort into finding a job, working, and making a living in the conventional righteous manner. Others relay on scams. This happens in real life as well as on social media. You gave an example of the nurse that faked cancer to get people to empathize with her and give her money for a cure. In reality, this woman just put the money in her pocket. Here are two examples of people who did the same exact thing in real life. Homeless people who are not actually homeless make more money than people with actual legit jobs. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1303310/Beggars-pretending-homeless-raking-20-000-year.html, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2285423/Meet-man-makes-100K-year-begging-pretending-mentally-handicapped.html
    Social Media is life on a screen. You meet and find genuine people who have good intentions, or frauds and imposters who have awful intentions.

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