TECH TALK: Technology and Charity – What’s the Deal behind the Dollars?

As I write this, the trend behind the #nomakeupselfie is finally dying down on my Facebook news feed. At the same time, the UNICEF Tap […]

As I write this, the trend behind the #nomakeupselfie is finally dying down on my Facebook news feed. At the same time, the UNICEF Tap Project, sponsored by Giorgio Armani, has been launched online. Gone are the days of charity collections on high streets, shaking a bucket and talking to passers-by; today’s charities are reaping the rewards of the availability and abundance of the technology we use on a daily basis.

You may love or hate the idea of the #nomakeupselfie. Selfies themselves have been disseminated through social media avenues such as Instagram and Facebook, and increasingly purpose-built Apps such as Snapchat. The obviously doctored nature of many a girl’s selfie is what has made the #nomakeupselfie seem to be such a radical sacrifice in the name of charity.

Nonetheless, with upwards of £2 million now raised by this social media campaign – enough, as a Cancer Research UK employee recently said, to fund 8 clinical trials – perhaps the ends have justified the means. The internet has done great things for self-publicity: stars like Kate Upton can get spotted a world away just by posting themselves on the Internet. The Web has become our new high school hall, where you want to be seen at your best. The notion that even online, women need a ‘cause’ to look natural has raised eyebrows across the board. Furthermore, the #nomakeupselfie trend has placed women behind the camera fiddling with lighting, filters and poses to find their best angle, then sending money to a number as an afterthought. Does a picture of yourself really need to be taken for you to donate money? Does a screenshot of your money donations need to be taken for you to donate money?

The internet trend of the #selfie has reached a peak with this spontaneous social media campaign, and for many people this has served to highlight a culture of social pressures, vanity and narcissism. At around the time when the #nomakeupselfie trend peaked, UNICEF launched its Tap Project – a similar venture designed to manipulate our frequent use of technology.

The idea behind this is simple: in a world where we seem to check into our phones/tablets every few minutes, UNICEF instead challenges you to put down your device for a whole ten minutes. As you use their sensor-fused website, when the ten minutes is up, Giorgio Armani will fund a day of water for a child in need. Whilst it is too early to tell how much money has been raised so far from this effort, the same questions can be raised. Early critique has questioned 1) why Georgio Armani cannot donate money to UNICEF himself and 2) whether the correlation between putting down your phone and given children water is really significant enough to create a whole campaign around it.

The same questions here are raised as with the viral #nomakeselfie campaign. Last year, UNICEF funded such campaigns as ‘Live Below the Line’, encouraging people to live on £1 a day – below the poverty line. WWF’s famous Earth Hour (held just last Saturday)  encourages people around the world to switch their lights off at 8:30 pm for an hour. Both campaigns tie in with the causes they raise money for; Earth Hour makes us aware of the resources we use and take advantage of; Live Below the Line breeds powerful empathy and understanding by forcing participants into the shoes of a person in abject poverty.

Ethical questions have been raised over whether charity campaigns such as the Tap Project and the #nomakeupselfie are merely taking advantage of our connection to the online world in order to raise extra cash. Technology may have made donating to charity easier than ever before, but it shouldn’t be used to take advantage of our altruism.

About Aimee Kwan