Social media has given us the ability to send and receive information instantly at a huge scale and at all times of the day and night. I know Twitter in particular, makes me a better fundraiser because it connects me to examples of best practice, innovation, sector news and the support of my fellow fundraisers / charity workers.
But there’s a downside to a medium which has such immediacy, and which seems to encourage an atmosphere in which snap judgments are the norm and expressing a speedy opinion, is fairly standard.
I was particularly sad about the way in which the debate around data protection and privacy concerns in relation to the Samaritans Radar Twitter app played out on Twitter. For those who are unaware of this story, the app was designed to enable users to monitor the accounts of their friends for distressing messages. It would then be possible for people to contact friends and offer support or check they were ok.
Today, Samaritans confirmed that they were closing down the app permanently, having initially suspended it following the concerns raised at launch. Now I don’t claim that those raising issues in this regard didn’t have a valid point to make, nor do I feel that people should not be able to express reasonably held views. But I do have an issue with the mob mentality which I discerned in some of the commentary on Twitter. It felt as though some people had sensed an opportunity to point out a problem and grabbed it with both hands.
I would like to have seen more awareness of the importance of reaching out to people – often young people who use social media to express their innermost feelings – in times of acute emotional distress. I would like to have seen a greater acknowledgement of the intent behind the programme and perhaps even some weighing of the issues between the right to data privacy and the potential to save a life. I think the need for new ways of offering support for people online (especially young people) is ever more pressing now that Beat Bullying has ceased operations.
It’s not an isolated incident either. Salvation Army South Africa’s quick response to #TheDress meme garnered mainly plaudits, but also some criticism from those who felt that the way that the advert and artwork was designed, with some people feeling that it unintentionally reinforced patriarchal views of women. Again, the criticism was well-argued and was a perfectly valid view, but was the core purpose of the advert to raise awareness of domestic violence not a more important message?
Clearly charities need to take care in the social media arena, and the fact that they are doing good work should not give them a ‘get out of jail free’ card when they make errors of judgment, but I think the stronger attacks could sometimes be toned down a little.
Do you agree or am I being over-sensitive on behalf of charities?