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What do Facebook reviews tell us (if anything) about NGOs?

What do Facebook reviews tell us (if anything) about NGOs?

Facebook has an estimated 1.35 billion active monthly users. Put another way, 19.5% of the world’s population uses Facebook. At no other time in recorded history have this many people, or this percentage of the global population, engaged in any such literacy practice, with the possible exception of SMS text messaging.

Literacy is not just a set of mechanical skills that we learn and use as young children. Literacy is a social practice, deeply embedded within economic, political and cultural contexts. We do not learn and use literacy independent of these overlapping and shifting contexts. Facebook, however, has managed to blast through geographical boundaries and across contexts to create new global literacy practices: updates, Likes, photograph sharing, friending.

One aspect of this practice is writing reviews on NGOs’ Pages. Sure, there is no criteria for rating organisations, and there are trolls lurking everywhere. But it offers a space for accountability and transparency. An opportunity for organisations to reach and engage a global community, and for that same community to publicly provide feedback, criticism and hate.

Yes, haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate, but users are always going to rate rate rate rate rate.

How do some of the biggest organisations rate on Facebook?

UNICEF – 4.6 out of 5 stars (114,000+ reviews)

To UNICEF’s credit, they respond to some reviews, but like most on Facebook, tend to stay out of it. Many of the other 1-star reviews reference the lack of support for Palestinian children.

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Save the Children – 4.4 out of 5 stars (1,600+ reviews)

Giving an award to Tony Blair didn’t sit well with many people. In fact, it’s probably the reason the organisation doesn’t have 5 stars.  Overwhelmingly, people praise Save the Children, particularly if they have a stake in the organisation’s child sponsorship fundraising scheme.

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United Nations Development Programme – 4.4 out of 5 stars (1,100+ reviews)

A good and surprising showing for UNDP, with 4.4 stars. However, the comments are all over the shop, from general comments about the nature of #globaldev and accusations of corruption to world tax proposals and volunteer offers. The admin even liked a random comment and 3-star rating.

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UNHCR – 4.4 out of 5 stars (2,100+ reviews)

The comments don’t always match the rating given, and UNHCR’s Page is a clear example. It’s also an example of the ‘review’ genre being turned on it’s head. Many of the 1-star reviews come from Thailand, in relation to a man charged with lese majeste reportedly being assisted by UNHCR as he fled the country. But, more importantly, people appear to use the Page as a way to apply for asylum and Refugee Status Determination (RSD).

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World Vision USA – 3.6 out of 5 stars (2,000+ reviews)

World Vision USA caught a lot of flak for reversing a decision about its employee conduct policy, which would have allowed the hiring of married gay employees. Similar to those on Save the Children’s Page, many World Vision USA reviewers participate in the organisation’s child sponsorship fundraising scheme. Despite the fiasco that was the announcement of the policy change, and its subsequent reversal, many reviewers continued their sponsorship. Otherwise, the children would be the ones who suffered.

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Global Poverty Project – 4.4 out of 5 stars (50 reviews)

GPP’s rating is less trustworthy with only 50 reviews, and most are a little irrelevant and lacking in coherent content.

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Reviews for some big players, though, are surprisingly absent:

Plan International – N/A

Oxfam GB – N/A

Médecins Sans Frontières – N/A


United Nations – N/A

World Food Programme – N/A

These organisations probably haven’t received reviews because that feature has been disabled. It’s a shame. We are moving towards greater accountability and transparency in the sector, and Facebook is perhaps the widest (and most unsteady) vehicle for engaging with supporters, detractors, advocates and trolls. GiveWell and Charity Navigator are stalwarts in external evaluation of NGOs, but are top-down and U.S.-centric.

Many corporate companies have enhanced their brands through digital marketing and engagement, centred around social media. It’s time for the global development sector to get serious about Facebook, and go beyond the typical one-way engagement strategies that generally characterise the sector.

Featured image shows the Facebook “like” thumbs up. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Know a development practitioner who’s getting development right? Nominate them in the 1st Annual Primetime Devie Awards.

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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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