Hey! I’m looking at you, averagely affluent first world living privileged student

Incredibly irritating social media crazes can motivate us to actually do some good, and without wasting water.

apathy charity givewell ice bucket challenge malaria neck nomination no makeup selfie patrick brooks Students university

Yesterday I got nominated to take part in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Ugh, I thought, this is annoying – 1) I’m quite busy over the next day or so, 2) I try to maintain a carefully crafted cynical online presence, this kind of thing just isn’t me, 3) I’m home alone so don’t have anyone to pour ice cold water on me, which will make me look like I’ve got no friends, and 4) the idea of pouring ice cold water on myself is just flat out unappealing.

What’s striking about this deluge of excuses is how the reason for the challenge, ALS, doesn’t come up.

Instead, I primarily think about inconvenience to myself, and how my actions will look to other people. Standard superficial Facebook-obsessed stuff, right? Definitely.


But it also demonstrates something about the campaign itself. Which is that when you get down to it, the majority of the friends and celebrities filling up my newsfeed don’t give a shit about ALS, or donating. They too are purely driven by standard superficial status-raising looking good to other people motivations, or by the fact that it’d be social suicide to ignore a nomination, or because this kind of chain-viral thing is fun to be involved in.

Fundamentally, the challenge is exactly the same as the No Makeup Selfie campaign, or, to be brutally honest, Neknominations. They’re just memes – ideas that perpetuate themselves, become exponential in growth (it’s not accidental that every nomination spawns at least two more), and don’t really mean anything.

The instant rebuttal is that the No Makeup Selfie campaign and the Ice Bucket Challenge are tied to very worthy good causes, i.e. massively spiking funding research into cures for cancer and ALS, and so even if you concede that the campaigns themselves are vacuous, there’s still a huge net positive.

I don’t buy this. It doesn’t salve my feelings of unease about these kinds of campaigns, and it doesn’t address the real issue.

The real issue is apathy. Sheer fucking apathy. We just do not care.

We have to be coerced into sponsoring our classmate £10 by them running a marathon, or climbing a mountain. Not because we care about the charitable cause, because we’re impressed by mountain climbing.

The only time we’ll send £3 to cancer research is when we’ve been guilted into it by a friend posting a picture of themselves without mascara. Not because we care about strangers with cancer, because our friend was a bit brave.

Charities have realised this. Charities know that we don’t actually care about helping strangers, and we’ll only do things that help strangers if at the same time they make us look and feel good.

Therefore they piggyback on top of viral trends, or make sure advertising is aimed directly at making us feel good about donating, pulling the heartstrings, and so on.

But this means that they’re not solving the problem of intense, generational apathy, just attempting to bypass it. And often it doesn’t work. About half of the Ice Bucket Challenge videos in my newsfeed don’t even mention ALS, and many others talk about how they’re going to donate after the video. You have to wonder how many do.

Because the apathy is still there. These trends come and go, raising a few million for a few choice causes which have the most creative marketing departments.

It doesn’t matter if these charities are actually using money effectively – issues have been raised with how the ALS money is being spent – all that matters is which charity has the most aggressive advertising, and which gives us the most satisfying feel good buzz.

You know what? Fuck all that.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a student. You probably live in the UK, and you’re probably pretty comfortably off, financially.

A malaria net costs about the same as entry to Cindies.

I’m not going to try to make you care more about the life of the African child that net could save than you care about a few hours of sweaty grinding.

I don’t care about the life of that child.

But I wish I did.

It’s just really hard. ‘Cause of apathy. And because it’s so easy to ignore children dying in Africa (years of repetition has stripped that phrase of all meaning, hasn’t it?) and still be really quite content.

So I’m not going to do the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Instead, I’ve spent a bit of time researching the most effective charities – charities which actually get things done, rather than making donors feel good – and I’ve donated £30 to SCI, which is trying to create deworming programs in sub-Saharan Africa. It costs about 50p to get a child dewormed, and this can massively improve their quality of life.

Note that I’ve only donated £30, no more than I’d spend on a nice vintage shirt but enough to sound morally impressive, because apathy.

I also realise that writing a preachy and cynical article about the negatives of a charity campaign and then finishing by mentioning how instead I’ve donated to a different, better charity, is in itself just as done to death and attempting to be status raising as the initial trends, so I’m glad this ends up making me look like an intellectual contrarian dick. Because seriously, that’s what I am, even if now I’m trying to cover that up by acknowledging it.

If you’ve felt similar feelings to me about viral charity trends and keep letting your apathy override your desire to help people, do a bit of research and then donate to something.

Just do it. Right now.

Don’t get forced into it by social media, don’t do it for social status.

Tell your apathy to fuck off and just act.