Do More Than Just “Like” It

Ever since Mark Zuckerberg’s twisted alternate reality – also known as Facebook – poked its way into our daily lives a few years ago, the golden question for potential investors, shady Wall Street types and Zuckerberg himself has been this: How can I use the Zuckerverse to make as much money as possible?

Right, well they don’t actually call it “the Zuckerverse,” but that’s pretty much what it is. All of us sign over every relevant piece of personal information we have to our Facebook profiles, where it becomes public information unless we change our privacy settings every six minutes. The trick for rich people who live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan is to figure out how to turn that massive amount of free personal information into dollar signs.

Fortunately, people who don’t feed off the debt of others to pay for trips to Nantucket are also using Facebook to raise money. If you have a Facebook account, you have probably received invitations to join up or “like” a cause recently. Thousands of charities have started Facebook Causes pages, hoping to use the social networking tool to raise funds for their organizations to do good work all over the world.

To be sure, this is nothing but a good thing. There are countless charitable organizations in the world that are doing amazing things for people with limited resources or health problems, and if they can use Facebook to raise more money to help more people, the effort is to be applauded. If the goal is to raise money to help people, and if that goal can be accomplished through Facebook, we should all be on board.

The problem is that Facebook, Twitter and their less successful counterparts are magnets for teenage and early-twenties apathy. We’re reading our News Feed all day because we don’t want to put in the effort to actually go out there and have meaningful social relationships and help people that need help. Besides, we’re young and in school, and we don’t have jobs that pay well; we can barely afford to buy this week’s worth of Top Ramen packets, much less donate money to charity. So we click the “Like” button on our favorite charity and post a status about “where we like it,” and, unfortunately, we have not made the world a better place by doing so.

The Washington Post printed a notable critique of the Facebook Causes application a while back. The article noted that charities were still finding much more success with traditional methods of fundraising, such as direct mail and public events. It also mentioned that the vast majority of charities were unable to raise even $1,000 through their Causes pages, and “fewer than 1 percent of those who have joined a cause have actually donated money through that application.”

The numbers have improved slightly since then. Facebook Causes has now been the medium for nearly $10 million in donations to charities, although this statistic is cumulative for all charities for the entire existence of the application. Most charities are still getting much of their money the old-fashioned way, and the “Like” button isn’t really helping.

We at the New University recognize that times are tough. Student fees are higher than they have ever been and the economy is recovering very slowly. As mentioned previously, many of us feel that we cannot donate to charity because we can barely pay our own bills. But the fact is that we can all do more to help those less fortunate than ourselves. As UC Irvine students, we come from a wide variety of different socioeconomic backgrounds, but all of us are privileged to attend a highly ranked school and live in one of the safest communities in the history of the human race. We have the privilege and the obligation to reach out to others.

There are numerous ways for us to do this that do not involve pointlessly meandering through Facebook. First, we can simply do our homework. None of us have the resources or the time to help every cause out there, but researching one or two charitable causes that resonate with us is a start. We can find out where good work is being done and contribute in whatever way we can. And no charitable donation is too small. One of the many lessons of President Obama’s wildly successful Internet fundraising campaign in 2008 was that a large number of very small donations can and will make a difference.

There are countless other ways to help as well. We can donate things we don’t need to charity, such as clothing, books and used furniture. We can actually stop to give blood at that donation center that is always parked on Ring Road. And in situations where we are already planning on purchasing a certain product, we can choose to buy from companies that give generously. The business model of TOMS Shoes is a perfect example; yes, they do what they do for a profit, but they still make a difference. For each pair of shoes they sell, another pair is donated to a child in need.

For those of us who just can’t shake the need to have a social networking interface for everything, there is even a social network called Jumo that is designed specifically to facilitate interaction between charities and the general public. Users can create profiles that match them with causes they may care about, and the process is streamlined and easy.

Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with donating to charities through Facebook. We simply advocate for a broader interest in charity. We have it better than a lot of other people do, and all of us can do more for others.

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