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Monday 25 September 2017

'How I've learned there is a dark side to charity causes on social media' - Mum of boy (12) with severe disability

"As someone who has leveraged the power of social media for various causes over the past eight years, I’ve learned there is a dark side to this potentially life-changing medium"

Tracy with Brendan
Tracy with Brendan

Tracy McGinnis

Social media is often filled with brazen keyboard warriors, wannabe do-gooders and bandwagon-jumpers.

But social media is also filled with passionate people who genuinely seek positive reform in society, and they often achieve their goals with the power of social media.

Tracy McGinnis with her son Brendan
Tracy McGinnis with her son Brendan

Recently, a new campaign targeting child homelessness, the #MyNameIs campaign, was launched on social media. This campaign took off in a matter of days, generating thousands of followers and resulted in people on the street bringing awareness of this serious societal issue.

Other recent social media campaigns have also found success via the likes of Twitter and Facebook. The floods in Houston and Donegal are two examples of the world coming together to support victims of these natural disasters by way of contributing clothing, household items, food, and even substantial monetary donations. People who lost all their worldly possessions, including many losing their homes, received help thanks to the community networking that social media can be.

But some causes gain momentum much faster than others and makes me wonder why some campaigns are seen as more important than others.

As someone who has leveraged the power of social media for various causes over the past eight years, I’ve learned there is a dark side to this potentially life-changing medium. I’ve seen some causes never take off, despite them being equally as worthy as ones that fly across the web in a matter of hours.

For example, seven years ago there was a social media based grant competition for non-profit organisations. The winner depended on the number of votes received on social media. I watched over the weeks as children’s medical causes were beaten out by the blind cat rescue charity. No joke. I have cats, I love cats, but I will always put supporting a sick child before a blind cat. That experience was the first which left me wondering why social media sometimes fails in helping various causes.

I’ve narrowed it down to one thing: hope. The public on social media hesitate to get behind a cause if they don’t see hope.

Tracy McGinnis with son Declan (9)
Tracy McGinnis with son Declan (9)

Take terminally-ill baby Charlie Gard for an example.

The campaign to raise money for his treatment abroad raised over a million pounds in a matter of weeks. Why? Because there was hope – hope that this beautiful little baby could miraculously overcome the severe brain damage despite the odds – and so people from around the world got behind the cause on social media.

What about those blind cats being rescued? Why did that campaign succeed? Because there was a clear and concise hope that, with the funding, these cats would have a better life. It was tangible. People could envision the end goal. People could believe the hope would manifest into a better reality.

Causes such as curing an overall disease or supporting vaccine research are more opaque, harder to grasp in the quick paced world that is social media. And, dare I say, those causes are often not “trendy” or “attractive” in the marketing sense because the public likes a cause whose goal is filled with hope while easily being made real: Marriage equality; flood relief funding; or a child with cancer needing set amount of funds for treatment. All of those causes scream hope and with hope there is a future.

The ice-bucket challenge was another cause that flooded social media. Do you really think people cared about raising funds, or did it just have the 'cool factor'?

Not so attractive are causes that have no clearly defined solution or easily created fix: Homelessness; disability equality and service reforms; or a child with a life limiting illness needing funds to help the family provide for all his or her needs. Those causes don’t scream hope. Those causes, at the fast first glance of social media, seem so vast and complicated, that the public turns away in resignation because it’s a cause too overwhelming to contemplate for too long.

I’m the mother of a beautiful 12-year-old boy who is severely disabled, medically fragile, and has a life-limiting condition. Personally, I’ve found social media fundraising very frustrating.

You see, children who are severely disabled and palliative, like my son Brendan Bjorn, don’t exude hope for a future, but I can assure you, their needs are great and immediate. Just as great and immediate as the adorable baby with similar brain damage or the child with cancer seeking help on social media. Hope for a long life is the only difference.

The homelessness man in his blue sleeping bag curled up in a shop doorway isn’t attractive to the world of social media, but he is as real as life gets and the homeless crisis is an emergency just as worthy of social media and public support as are the floods in Donegal or Houston.

Keep scrolling down your timeline. Another cause will surely be the flavour of the day soon. A trendier cause; a more attractive cause; a cause that will make you quickly feel you’ve helped make the world be a better place simply by changing your profile photo on social media. The problem with that mindset, though, is that those other causes – those unpopular, not attractive, and maybe even apparently hopeless causes – are still just as worthy of social media support, despite the appearance of being insurmountable. Take a break from social media and get out into the community to help these causes. Remember, it only takes one pebble to cause a ripple of change.

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