The Hypocrisy of Helping

Image: Mkirkdesign

Image: Mkirkdesign

Our generation has come to realize the potential harm of social media, and has started to use it for good. Some recent topics favored by Instagram users trying to “raise awareness” for social issues are the Sudanese revolution, the plastic straw bans, and the US abortion restrictions. And if I am being quite honest, this trend does more harm than good. 

Raising awareness for social issues has grown because its profitable to be socially conscious  From the outside, this seems to be a great thing; the more people who care about socio-economic issues, the more people who will act to change it! But in practice, this trend does little to actually help those in need, and acts mainly as a benefit to people’s egos. 

People and companies can draw views by feigning interest in charitable causes. Viewers may have an actual interest in making a difference, but social media trends act to quench this interest by suggesting that sharing a single post to “raise awareness” is sufficient.  Countless Instagram accounts have scammed the public into thinking they would plant trees for likes, or feed the homeless for each share, but these accounts were just marketing scams to build followings and sell products. Raising awareness for any social issue, without a call to action or further educational resources, does nothing to actually help that issue. These accounts feed off of people’s desire to help, but lack the willingness to follow through. 

A prime example of this hypocrisy is the “plastic straw ban”. It started with a video of a sea turtle getting a straw stuck in it’s nose, and from it grew an effort to ban plastic straws worldwide. Despite the good intentions, this plastic free trend arguably did more harm than good. Banning straws altogether is ableist and harms those with disabilities who physically require straws. Any replacement to reusable straws will not stop plastic straws from being produced, and once disposed adds to the huge quantity of trash going into the waste system. Additionally, the ban began, and ended, with straws. Of course the push to eliminate plastic from common use will inspire some people to be more environmentally conscious. But the trend of sharing environmental posts is mainly a marketing strategy for eco-brands, and distracts from the fact that global pollution is caused by corporations rather than individual consumers. To truly have a widespread effect, we need to push for strict regulations on large companies, better environmental laws, and a dedication to fixing the state of the world

As Greth Thumburg said, “We need system change, and we need individual change. We cannot have one without the other.” But the small awareness focuses only on individual change, to the detriment of systematic rebellion. Accounts that are dedicated to journalism, volunteerism, advocacy, or environmentalism, that provide resources for people to follow up with, and that actually put their funds into worthy causes, will be the ones to make a difference. Anyone can help out with these causes, but don’t portray empty statements as important opinions. Instead of sharing a post and calling it “raising awareness”, people can have an impact by sharing posts along with links to donation sites, news articles, or ways to volunteer. Of course viewers aren’t always going to follow through, but by providing the resources to act, viewers will feel less helpless to the countless bad things going on in the world. 

I have dedicated myself to becoming Instagram famous. Not to become an influencer, but to use the platform for good. No matter how many people use these platforms, there is still good to be had from them. Technology is designed to be used for the spreading of information, and I will use it to spread the messages of environmentalism and human rights advocacy. I want to share donation links and educate my peers, and without followers, my impact won’t be seen. Simply stated: as the number of followers increases, the number of people available to donate to charitable causes increases proportionally.

Sarah LeClair Comment