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Slacktivists take note: We don’t Like your Likes

Slacktivists take note: We don’t Like your Likes

Social media’s potential to help NGOs and non-profits fundraise has recently taken a sobering introspection. Donor fatigue is on the rise despite the urgent need in many humanitarian and long-term development contexts. Despite the likelihood that the MDG on universal primary education will not be met, overall foreign aid for basic education has fallen 9%. In Jordan, there was a $250 million funding gap to assist Syrian refugees as of June this year. Organisations, taking a cue from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, are asking themselves, “What have Likes ever done for us?” Earlier this year, UNICEF Sweden commissioned the ad agency Forsman & Bodenfors to create this campaign:

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There is also a major TV spot for the campaign.

Tom Murphy gave a good account of the campaign on Humanosphere, writing “UNICEF Sweden’s campaign wedges itself into a broader debate over the power of social media to support change. The responses to the campaign so far have been largely positive.” It certainly generated a lot of activity from writers and bloggers. Marc Pitman was one who didn’t respond so positively, “How dare we as NGOs or nonprofits command people in how to support us. How dare we berate them for ‘only’ helping their friends know we exist by sharing about us on social media.”

In the widely circulated TV spot, which racked up over 275,000 views, the protagonist Rahim says, “But I think everything will be alright. Today Unicef Sweden has 177,000 likes on Facebook. Maybe they will reach 200,000 by summer.” Well, they only have 187,000. Mission accomplished? Perhaps. According to their website where you can buy vaccines, “Since April 18, we have together vaccinated 525,642 children”. (Thanks Google Translate). When the number of children vaccinated (500,000+) > Facebook Likes (10,000) over the same period, it is a win.

But, I am not sure if any one wrote about that. As it tends to happen in the news cycle, the blog cycle soon slowed down and nothing much else was heard. In fact, you may have missed out on their other videos for the campaign: ‘The Sweater‘; ‘The Restaurant‘; ‘The Barbershop‘.

Crisis Relief Singapore (CRS) took notice of UNICEF Sweden’s success. Although the principle message is the same, CRS is not asking for donations but for volunteers. “Liking isn’t helping. Be a volunteer, change a life”.

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Christina Taylor (“Editor. Reader. Writer”) brought my attention to the campaign as featured in news.com.au. It is potentially explosive, bringing together two realms of debate and consternation in the aid/development blogosphere: volunteerism + slacktivism (= slackteervism?). Add in a dash of Christianity, “As a Christian organization, we believe in the importance of praying for the organization”, and BOOM! The campaign won a Gold Lion at Cannes, but certainly didn’t generate the search engine optimisations UNICEF Sweden’s campaign did or the number of vaccinated children.

Nor were the Twitter feeds ablaze except with slacktivists tweeting the title of the original story, ‘Liking isn’t helping’, usually preceeded by the prefix ‘This!’. I wonder how many of them decided to volunteer for CRS or at least pray for them. Slacktipray. I commented to Christina that it feels exploitative (no, I am not going to use the term ‘poverty porn’ but it is the same genre), and Anna Ashenden (“Passionately barefoot”) suggested that it might just promote “slactivism about slactivism”. At least on their volunteer application form, they appear to take into account language, medical training/skills and your willingness to attend monthly prayer meetings to pray for the organisation.

There are so many points of intersection here – volunteerism/voluntourism, slacktivism, faith in the NGO sector, social media, fundraising, “poverty porn” – that it appears even the writers on slacktivism are getting slack. I am looking at you, fellow WhyDev slacktivist experts Weh Yeoh and Richenda Ghebrial-Ibrahim.

Update 24 July

The World Food Programme (WFP) has joined the choir, promising that for each Facebook Like, their partner Royal DSM will provide a meal to a child in need. Check it out here (hat tip @a_ashenden). There are no precise details about how this will happen on Facebook, and you need to go to WFP’s partnerships webpage for clarification.

“WFP and DSM have launched an online campaign to grow WFP’s Facebook community and raise awareness about hunger — the world’s greatest solvable problem. For every person who “likes” WFP’s Facebook page between 17 July and 8 August, DSM will donate the value of a nutritious school meal to WFP. This campaign will raise a minimum of 40,000 school meals.” (emphasis added).

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 What do you think? Which campaign do you prefer and why?

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Brendan Rigby

Managing Director & Co-founder at WhyDev
Brendan is an education specialist and co-founder of WhyDev. He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education exploring complementary basic education and the literacy practices of out-of-school children in northern Ghana. Formerly, he was an Education Officer with UNICEF Ghana, and Director of Venture Support with StartSomeGood. Brendan has also been an education consultant and trainer for Plan, UNICEF, ScopeGlobal and the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority. He is obsessed with tea, American football and karaoke.

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10 thoughts on “Slacktivists take note: We don’t Like your Likes

  1. Slacktivism can and does have real impacts, on so many levels, be it raising awareness, helping people select causes, or shifting advertising dollars away from cartoon frogs and celebrity endorsements and into things that people actually pay attention to. We’re proving it every day at http://zadaqa.com, where users check in to see how they can generate money to charity simply by sharing, liking, tweeting, and more.

  2. Adam

    I have a real problem with the type of campaign being run by WFP/DSM. It reminds me of an article (possibly on WhyDev) likening the conditionality of ‘likes’, ‘shares’ etc to holding starving children to ransom. The money is there, it’s in someone’s budget and systems have been put in place to deliver the food. However until you ‘like’ the WFP’s page, that child is gonna starve.

    I understand the rational behind why companies and organisations would do this, but it is (at the very least) pushing the boundaries of humanitarian principles.

    1. That is a good analogy Adam; the act, whether it is real or not, of these campaigns holding children hostage. Powerful image. And, it seems quite surreal this idea of the conditionality of Likes, mirroring the conditionality that comes tied to aid. But, keep in mind, that a minimum of 40,000 meals will be underwritten no matter the outcome of the social media campaign.

  3. Alysia

    Really interesting! Here is a link to a blog post that puts a different spin on the UNICEF campaign. http://kineticfishing.tumblr.com/post/49169720238/dont-bite-the-hand-that-newsfeeds

    1. Emma

      The contrast between the campaigns only assists with confusing the hesitating slactivists.
      I tend to agree that a facebook like doesn’t always mean slactivity, its a way of securing the info of personal interest in your news feeds and subsequent ability to share. Sharing and informing is what most development agencies / NGOs advocate and when they choose to use facebook as a platform, it then hard to condemn a main function of this site that allows users to access information.
      Why not welcome the like, inform people and then encourage them to support in appropriate ways, likely financial. A post that says, ‘a like won’t vaccinate children’ isn’t likely to encourage people to say, ok, I’ll donate there, they sound like a worthwhile cause.
      Alternatively the promise of having a partner who will donate on your behalf for a like does encourage slactivism and not only that it becomes somehow related to the abhorrent stories/pictures that beg for likes to make the subject matter feel liked.
      What is good about the WFP calling for likes, is that they acknowledge that facebook is brimming with garbage and if they can collect likes, then it exposes their programs further, to hopefully generate individual/group interest in gaining more information.
      Campaigns such as UNICEF’s may have attracted a lot of discussion but I’ll bet its among professionals and those already involved in development. I like the premise of deterring slactivists however, I’d like to know how this translates to the general public in terms of action.

  4. Marianne Jago-Bassingthwaighte

    Slacktipray is soon to enter the lexicon, I divine it.

    I’d like to add an observation, however, for those who may wish to debate its definition. In general, to pray is not slack, but courageous, IMO. To pray that everyone else joins one’s fundamentalist view of the universe and how to alleviate poverty is unlikely to invoke the sympathy of the Christ or whatever guru to whom one prays. This is why it would be slackti- (ie pointless) pray. Hope this is of assistance.

    (love your blog, BTW).

  5. Anouk

    I prefer people liking NGO’s on facebook than travelling to Africa for a month to build a crappy school or work in an orphanage. It’s might not be helping but at least it isn’t damaging.

  6. Really slick campaigns. Certainly successful at getting attention. I wonder if this is the start of a new trend within development marketing and if the backlash against slactivism will continue – something to watch.

  7. Ha! I love “slactipray”.

    It is interesting that the organisation in Singapore is suggesting volunteering as the next logical alternative to liking, because in my (limited) experience with organisations from that country, there seems to be a growing desire to get off their butts and help people in poor countries through their own volunteer labor. I’d say this is indicative of this desire, and obviously just as dangerous (or potentially more so) than simple slacktivism. It’s a real shame, and a missed opportunity.

  8. Cynan

    I don’t necessarily agree with ‘volunteer instead’ as the follow through, but those images are brutally arresting. Well done to CRS.

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