Unicef attacks Facebook 'likes' and says charities need cash

May 3, 2013

'Slacktivists' under fire in ad campaign that demands donations, not social media support

THE BACKLASH against lazy charity campaigns based around social media has been underway for some time, but now a major aid organisation has joined in. Unicef in Sweden has launched a series of ads mocking people who believe that simply 'liking' something on Facebook makes a difference.

The campaign, using the slogan 'Likes don't save lives, money does', features TV commercials, YouTube videos and posters poking fun at people who only lend support to a charitable cause on the internet and do not offer financial assistance.

In one ad a hungry orphan explains that he thinks he will be OK because Unicef's Facebook page has almost 200,000 likes. In others a man tries to pay for a cashmere sweater and other items using 'likes'.

"We like 'likes', and social media could be a good first step to get involved, but it cannot stop there," explained Petra Hallebrant of Unicef in Sweden. "'Likes' don't save children's lives. We need money to buy vaccines."

Concerns over social media are not new but, as The Atlantic notes, Unicef has become "the first major international charity to come right out and say that people who actually want hungry, sick children saved need to donate money and supplies".

Last year, the controversial Kony 2012 campaign came under fire for its reliance on Twitter, with supporters of the campaign branded "slacktivists": people who are happy to pledge support to a cause on the internet, but have little understanding of it and make no practical difference.

Charity blog Humanosphere explained that the campaign came in the wake of research showing one in seven people thought supporting a cause on the internet was as good as making a donation. Other research indicates that those who pledge support online are no more likely to make a financial donation than anyone else.

However, not everybody agrees with the Unicef campaign. Critics have pointed out that social media campaigns can raise the profile of a campaign and lead to more donations.

Fundraising blogger Marc A. Pitman went further. "How dare we as NGOs or nonprofits command people in how to support us. How dare we berate them for 'only' helping their friends know we exist by sharing about us on social media," he wrote.

"When we get to the point of feeling so frustrated that people aren't giving, we need to grow up and realize our donors or 'slacktivists' aren't the problem. We are."

And there is a final irony to the campaign. As The Atlantic notes Unicef's campaign comes "in the form of a shocking video and a shareable image, both of which are geared toward social-media users. So it seems virality is virality, no matter whether you want dollars or digital cred".

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