Very few people would argue against raising money for charitable causes, even if the means is self-centred and bears little relation to the cause. By all means, raise money for cancer research, or starving refugee children in Syria. Just don’t pretend that this new craze of selfie-related giving is completely altruistic. That’s arguably irrelevant as long as it gets the job done. Which it does: great. But what it also does is tell us more about ourselves as people.
Charity is meant to be about helping others. The selfie is a perfect metaphor for our generation; quickly taken, requiring little focus or attention, and most importantly of me. Me, me, me. Surely there’s something ironic about selfies being used in conjunction with charity? It’s not as if it’s subtle. It’s a photo. Taken by you. Of you. The link between this and ‘waking up’ to the horrors of the Syrian conflict could possibly seem a wee bit tenuous at times. The selfie caters for the movement of being seen – the point becomes no longer to donate to charity but to post the best evidence of having done it. This is a reflection of something much older than the selfie; it’s the interest people have in projecting a certain image of themselves to the world. This is an interest that social media has only exaggerated.
Selfie activism seems to have a fair bit to say about people’s behaviour. If the most effective way of getting people involved is to tell them to post a selfie not wearing makeup (because the strength that takes is obviously comparable to fighting breast cancer), surely that tells us that this new face of charity is less about the cause and more about the person behind – and simultaneously, in front of – the lens?
The latest self-congratulatory charitable trend to grace the internet is the #WakeUpCall selfie. For those who’ve managed to remain blissfully ignorant of the slaughter taking place in Syria, this is finally your chance to unleash the political activist that you’ve always known existed inside of you, buried deep down. So deep down that it took a selfie of Jeremy Clarkson in bed to propel you into your newfound lifestyle of profound philanthropy.
Charity is one of the most important institutions and concepts that humanity has, especially in a world where benefits are increasingly being cut for those who need them most, and in a year of huge global suffering. Money raised can be used to charitable ends (awareness is a slightly trickier issue – all right, you’re aware of ALS now, what next?) and it’s all very well to talk about the moral implications of selfie activism from a flat in Edinburgh which is at pretty minimal risk of being blown apart in a civil war.
But let’s be realistic now – how many people would have donated to breast cancer research or Syria’s refugee children if it wasn’t accompanied with a nifty opportunity to put their face on social media, propelling them to the dizzy heights of the selfless do-gooders? The prevalence of this self-centred activism does suggest that people only get really interested in helping others when it comes neatly packaged in an offer that allows them a nice slice of self-promotion. The charitable cause may change from time to time but, for better or worse, the #Me seems to be here to stay.