The Darker Side of Social Media: Helping the Less Fortunate for Likes?


Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.

Recently, my friend got me into the show ‘The Good Place’, which is about the afterlife and what it means to be a “good” person. An episode that really stuck out to me was one where the main character was trying to prove that she was worthy enough to belong in the “good” afterlife by doing positive actions like holding doors open for people. However, despite doing all of these good deeds, she obtained no points, and we later realise that this is due to her intention. She isn’t doing good things for the sake of being moral, she’s doing it because she wanted to get into heaven, and it is due to that ulterior motive that she wasn’t considered to be a truly good person. What’s the point I’m trying to make here, you ask? It’s that intention matters.

When we see people sharing selfies of themselves giving a homeless man a sandwich (usually with a caption about how #humbled they are to be doing this amazing action), we need to consider what the purpose of their action actually is. Although they undoubtedly have done a good thing helping the homeless, what is the point of posting it online? What are they trying to achieve? Many would argue that they are simply trying to ‘raise awareness’ of some of the problems the poor  face, and that is true in many cases.

But I would argue that there is a number of people who are just doing it for the gratification social media gives them. There are people who put every single good deed on social media, believing that the only way they can feel as if they have achieved something is if they have flocks of adoring fans stroking their egos with likes, heart reacts and encouraging comments. So even if their action is externally good, I feel like it comes from an inherently selfish place. They don’t actually care about what the less fortunate are going through; they care about the compliments they are going to get for helping them.

This might seem like a very harsh analysis, and I am not acting like I have never done it myself.  It does make sense psychologically because everybody, myself included, looks for validation on social media. We post filtered selfies because we want people to tell us we look attractive, we post memes because we want people to think we are funny, and so it isn’t surprising that there are some people out there who post every good deed on social media with the intention of getting compliments on how ‘inspiring’ they are.

It is psychologically natural, so usually I would stay in my lane, but my main problem is that it ends up hurting the very people you claim to be an advocate for. By sharing a selfie with a homeless man you gave a sandwich to, do you not feel as if you are exploiting their hardships for your own personal gain? You may again argue that you are in fact raising awareness, but if you think about your intentions as a whole, this homeless man is essentially a pawn in your bigger plan. You are using this person as a means to get compliments and thereby feel better about yourself.

As I said, it is good bring recognition to these issues, so if you really want to post about your experience online, why not emphasise the person in need? Why not focus on their story as a means of encouraging people to help, rather than putting yourself in the spotlight? If your intention is to help them, then you won’t mind that they are getting the attention on social media rather than you.

Over the Christmas period, there has been the usual surplus of donations to food banks as it is the time of goodwill and people are feeling a lot more giving: that’s fair enough. But what I have also noticed is the increase in tactical photo-ops by politicians, with some of them arguably contributing to the policies that has forced people to resort to food banks in the first place. This is an extreme example, but it is based on the same principle that drives indulgent “I’m such a good person” selfies and “voluntourism”.

More often than not these politicians are taking photos at food banks because of a desire to maintain a positive their image for the media. They want to appear a certain way to their constituents because it benefits them. Not only will they get reports saying how great they are, it also increases their chances of being voted for in a future election or getting a promotion with a desirable pay packet. Again, these motivations are especially insulting considering that they’re usually the ones who play a role in enabling poverty in the first place. It shows the fundamental shallowness and selfishness of their actions, and although those who post on social media aren’t quite as bad, they’re not far off.

This is a problem I think is especially important for students to consider because we are always encouraged to do charitable things on the basis of it looking good on our CV. It doesn’t matter if it will change people’s lives for the better, the main point of attraction for students is to build up a believable disguise as a good person on our LinkedIn profile. We want to appear good insofar as it benefits ourselves. As soon as we have built an impressive enough portfolio, we leave it there. Ultimately, if we put less effort into constructing an appearance of looking good and spent time actually trying to do good, the world would change for the better.

More articles in The Darker Side of Social Media
  1. The Darker Side of Social Media: Blue Whale
  2. The Darker Sides of Social Media: SnapMaps
  3. The Darker Side of Social Media: Snapchat’s Race Problem
  4. The Darker Side of Social Media: The Lighter Side of Life
  5. The Darker Side of Social Media: Effects on Employability
  6. The Darker Side of Social Media: Cyberbullying
  7. Darker Side of Social Media: Internet Stalking
  8. The Darker Side of Social Media: Helping the Less Fortunate for Likes?
  9. The Dark Side of Social Media: Getting Real About Mental Health

Wessex Scene Editor // meme queen // fan of chocolate digestives // @colombochar on Twitter.

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