Thanks to the proliferation of social media and crowdfunding, you can afford anything if you can convince others that you need it. But is that a bad thing?
By Emma Taubenfeld, Pace University
Last summer, I bought a granola bar for a stranger.
He was middle-aged, drenched in sweat and sitting on a bench outside of a Starbucks accompanied by a couple of garbage bags. As I went to grab a coffee, he looked at me with sadness in his eyes and asked for spare change because he was hungry. I kept walking, but something about this particular man made my heart sink. I usually don’t give to the homeless, mostly because I’m still a student and I rely on my parents, but also because unfortunately, sometimes the money fuels a different problem, such as drugs or alcohol.
But, after I ordered my iced coffee, I threw a granola bar on the counter and, after paying, went outside and handed it to the man on the bench. He was so genuinely appreciative that he began to tell me stories about his past and how he planned to get back on his feet again. I left feeling hopeful that he might actually be planning to turn his life around.
I can’t help but think of this encounter when I scroll through Facebook and see various links to GoFundMe pages, most of which comes from former classmates looking to solicit money in order to travel abroad or take a Spring Break trip. GoFundMe, if you’re unfamiliar, is a website where you can create your own fundraising campaign and share your story. You can then share the link to your fundraiser on various forms of social media, which allows you to easily accept donations from anyone willing to contribute.
The website was created in order to aid those dealing with unforeseen circumstances, such as death, illness or maybe unanticipated education costs. The simplicity of generating a fundraiser on GoFundMe, and the small amount of effort it takes for people to donate, is brilliant. The site perfectly illustrates how small acts of kindness from a large number of people can make a difference. There are also many benefits to crowdfunding. It’s a really great way to help people or causes you truly believe in, such as ensuring safety for the LGBT community, supporting victims of domestic violence or funding a space for the creative arts.
While the website seems like an incredible way to utilize social media, it’s unfortunately a little too good to be true, mostly because a lot of people don’t understand the purpose of creating a fundraiser. I have seen pages shared about raising money for a new laptop, a Spring Break vacation to the Bahamas and tickets to see Ed Sheeran in concert.
Between college tuition, paying rent and buying groceries, life in college can seem really expensive, so much so that you might think it necessary from time to time to ask others for money to fund non-essential ventures. If you are ever struck by such a desire, remember: Almost everyone is struggling right there alongside you, and many are much, much worse off than you will ever be. While you’re panicking about a non-response from a potential internship or a lack of money to travel this summer, there are people wondering whether or not they can afford to eat.
Nikki Smith, a mother of two from England, started a GoFundMe page to get people to pay for a trip to Disney in order to give her daughters their dream vacation. Her original goal was $6,000, but she recently surpassed $8,000. She received a ton of backlash from many users, including comments that read, “I do not find it ethical even if it is honest” and “You want a vacation, work and save, simple as that, or just don’t go.”
Vacations are a luxury, not a necessity, and a lot of times people forget that. But while critics saw Smith’s pleads as inappropriate, many clearly didn’t, considering she passed her goal. No one has rigorously studied personal donation sites, but theories have been tossed around, including one from Ethan Mollick, an assistant professor of management at Wharton Business School, regarding the moral murk of donating and asking for money. He believes that money is only a small piece of crowdfunding sites, and that a large component is to seek attention. Crowdfunding builds a community of support. Mollick even argues that such sites may be more about attention than receiving funds. People crave attention and validation, so their personal story landing them as a guest star on Ellen DeGeneres may serve as more value to them than the actual money.
Of course, there is no shame in asking for help, and there are many people who are likely willing to assist you, such as your parents or close friends, but social media demands weighing your need for attention against being courteous of your followers’ psychic space. Your 5,000 Facebook friends don’t really need to know that you’re the biggest Ed Sheeran fan in the world and would love for the opportunity to see your “musical inspiration” live. They haven’t connected with you on social media because they were looking forward to having to choose between giving you money or uncomfortably ignoring you.
In essence, through the combination of crowdfunding and social media, the boundary between need and want can disappear.
People need to eat and they might need an operation to survive, but a luxury, such as a vacation or a concert ticket, is something that you earn; no matter how big of a fan you are, no one is entitled to an indulgence.
The problem lies in the alarming number of people who believe that they can get whatever they want by relying on the charity of others, especially when there are huge campaigns for cancer patients, animal safety and feeding homeless veterans that deserve empathy, money and attention.
There is an older homeless woman who sits on a pink sleeping bag at a subway station near my school. I walk past her every Tuesday and have noticed that she leaves half a muffin for the homeless man who sits across the hall. The woman, who can probably barely afford the muffin for herself, gives half of it to a man in her same predicament.
People are taught to treat others as they would want to be treated by showing kindness, respect and generosity to those in need, but if you are funding a trip to Europe or a new iPhone, you are not “in need.”