On Twitter, a big-hearted Penn State alumnus may tweet, “I’ll give $1 to @THON for every RT this gets!! #FTK #InspireTomorrowsMiracles,” or, on Facebook, an inventive student may write a status update, “For each like, $1 goes to Penn State Dance Marathon. For each share, $2 will go to fighting pediatric cancer. Get to it, people!”
Sound familiar? Supporters of the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon and the Four Diamonds Fund often take to social media to raise funds, while simultaneously boosting their web influence.
Other THON advocates encourage these industrious social givers by following their directions: retweeting, liking, sharing and so on.
If these people keep their financial promises, children suffering from cancer benefit immensely. I’ve seen hundreds of interactions on similar calls to action before for THON and other charitable organizations, like the infamous Invisible Children, Inc.
I, however, abstain from interacting because the sentiment strikes me as preposterous on a number of levels.
First, it sets arbitrary limits on what a person will give, up to the whims of his or her social contacts. When I read something pleading that I click my mouse to influence another person’s charitable act, it says to me, “If you don’t interact with this, I won’t give $1 to THON.” What a strange implied pressure to exert on someone’s supposed “friends.”
Apparently, people posting such things aren’t comfortable giving the money they’re able to spare. Instead, strings are needlessly attached. What if no one shares or likes your status? What then?
Second, it comes across as sanctimonious. In Matthew 6:2, the all-time most quoted man says, on the topic of charitable giving, “When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win praise of others.”
He goes on to say that there is inherent reward in giving alms. As the product of a Roman Catholic upbringing, that message always resonated with me. Social media is the modern-day trumpet in the streets if there ever was one.
Third, it’s shamelessly manipulative.
A recent pre-New Year push for new followers on Twitter from WPVI-TV 6, ABC’s Philadelphia affiliate station, struck me as particularly calculating. The station’s Twitter account, @6abc, pledged 50 cents for each new follower through Dec. 31.
Well, 50 cents isn’t much, covering the price of a stamp for one THONvelope. This was an obvious example of a media outlet cheaply buying eyeballs for its content. It’s the same as when any for-profit corporation, like Toms Shoes, intermingles charity with consumption. In boosting their social brands, these entities are doing it for a profit. There will always be a cause for businesses to tap for public relations.
Thankfully, most social media users do not profit when doing the same thing.
I love THON, I really do. I walk into the Bryce Jordan Center every February amazed by what Christopher Millard’s story and student volunteers’ work has evolved into. It fills me with hokey Penn State pride at a time when some are short on satisfaction with the university.
A dedicated minority has argued against the spectacle of THON’s efforts before and will probably continue to do so. The arguments hold undeniable merit.
Still, it’s hard to argue against THON’s results. It remains both extremely efficient and organized because of the students.
And, as students, don’t let the organization’s wonderful mission distract from what’s really happening when others pledge nickels from their piggy banks for a retweet.
Mike Hricik is a senior majoring in journalism and is The Daily Collegian’s Monday columnist. Email him at email@example.com.