I’ve been stuck at home for the past two months recovering from major surgery, and have had a lot of time (read: too much time!) to browse around the internet – particularly Facebook – which has been an interesting and often frustrating experience. There sure is a lot of garbage floating around out there.
Facebook is a venue to spew your thoughts to your friends (or to the world), share the latest viral info graphic or video, and of course share lots of selfies, funny videos, and tributes to the most recently deceased celebrity. Don’t get me wrong, much of what I see is good. I follow a number of great theological leaders who often provide tremendous spiritual nourishment for me. This has been particularly important as I’ve been housebound for such a long time. And even before the surgery, for several years my abilities have been severely limited by crippling fatigue. I have more time on my hands than I need, but no energy or brain power to do anything with it. It’s hard to imagine what my life would be like right now without an internet connection! (OK, instead of having six books on the go, I’d probably have 20!)
Anyway, back to Facebook… Recently the most popular thing to share has been video responses to the “Ice Bucket Challenge“, which is a clever marketing campaign to raise awareness and money for ALS research. The cause itself is wonderful. And the concept is brilliant. Posting a video of someone dumping ice water on you for a good cause has become like the new selfie. Only with this version, you get to feel good about yourself for helping a charitable cause. And there’s a social aspect to this, since you get to taunt and challenge your friends or celebrities, politicians, etc. to do the same. The marketing design actually targets and exploits our fallen, narcissistic human bent. And boy, is it ever effective! “Look at me! I’m on the internet and I’m being altruistic!”.
Other groups are trying to ride the wave and get in on some of the action (and can you blame them??). Having MS, I am connected with a pretty large online MS community. A number of people there have started their own similar campaigns to raise awareness and money for the MS Society. One is called “Make a Mess for MS“, and another is the “MS Macaroni Challenge“. There are others popping up daily. I’m sure there are many others who have done the same for Lupus, Parkinson’s, and any number of other chronic illnesses.
Another issue with both of these particular challenges is an ethical dilemma. When it comes to the MS Society, I deeply appreciate my local chapter and all the help they have provided me. And I appreciate the VLAP program, which provided free help with my disability application form. They have been amazing! But I struggle with raising money for a society that is so closely tied to big pharma companies. Further, they function with a severe conflict of interest, and we as patients pay the price for it. (I may get into more detail on that another day.)
When it comes to the ALS Association, they fund a variety of research projects, one of which is embryonic stem cell research. For anyone who recognizes the sanctity of life, and the brutal injustice and immorality of abortion, this is a major, major problem. Thankfully, there are many ALS research groups that do not fund this particular type of research, such as the Mayo Clinic.
These kinds of marketing ventures are challenging to keep up with. There are so many causes that need attention and funding. If it’s really about supporting a charity like this, how do you choose the right one, and how do you know your money will be used wisely and ethically? It concerns me that the vast majority of people who give to a cause do so without taking the time to do the research. We live in an age of information, and it’s time we started using it. It’s not enough just to “give”. Where your money goes is just as important as the act of giving is.