Seems like every day, there are sensational news headlines linking social media with the darker aspects of human society. But social media isn’t just a vortex of negativity and narcissism. In fact, it has been used as a tool to bring positivity and change to the world. Here are some of our favorite examples of good being done on social media.
Peace and Love and Unity in the Holy City pic.twitter.com/4XWHW866BH
— Stephen Colbert (@StephenAtHome) June 22, 2015
In the wake of tragedy, sometimes the smallest gesture can grow into an opportunity for healing. On June 17, 2015, nine members of the Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina were shot and killed. In response to this devastating attack, Dorsey Fairbain of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina decided to organize a “unity chain,” asking members of the community to congregate on the city’s Ravenel Bridge to pay their respects to those the community had lost. The day after the attack, Fairbain posted a Facebook status about the event that went viral within hours. More than 15,000 people showed up, including future Late Night host and South Carolina native, Stephen Colbert. The crowd marched to the center of the bridge, escorted by Mount Pleasant Police Chief, Carl Ritchie, and 40 officers, where they observed nine minutes of silence – one minute for each of the lives lost in the gunman’s attack. The event went on to make national headlines, and brought a moment of hope to the devastated community.
At this point, Batkid is a well-known story, but it’s still such a heartwarming one it’s worth including on this list. Batkid, a.k.a. Miles Scott, took the the streets of Gotham City, alongside Batman, to foil the plots of The Riddler and Penguin; ride in the Batmobile; save innocent bystanders; and ultimately be awarded the key to the city, while winning the hearts of its citizens. Scott was diagnosed with leukemia at just 18 months old. After years of treatment, his cancer finally went into remission at five years old. To make the young comic book fan’s dream of being Batman a reality, the Make-A-Wish foundation partnered with a social media marketing company, resulting in over 7,000 citizens of Gotham (actually, it was San Francisco) showing up to support Batkid and his crime-fighting adventure, and spawning a documentary of the event.
Twitter has something of a reputation for being a depository for the Internet’s complaints. Open up your feed right now, and it won’t take long at all to find someone upset over something. But the non-profit company Epic Change – whose work focuses on building schools, libraries, and housing in poor regions of the world – had the idea to create a hashtag centered around gratitude. It used that wave of positivity to fund education facilities for a village in Tanzania. All over the world, people used the hashtag #TweetsGiving to express their gratitude on America’s national day of thanks, Thanksgiving. The event spread awareness of the campaign and brought in thousands of dollars in donations. “TweetsGiving” has since become an annual event, taking place November 24-26.
The Dancing Man
The “Dancing Man” is about then 42-year-old Sean O’Brian, who was photographed at a music event trying to dance, and ultimately being laughed at and shamed by the photographers. The pics were posted online, where it was noticed by Cassandra Fairbanks, a writer from California. Fairbanks started a hashtag on social media to get O’Brien’s attention and assure him that no matter what he looks like, he should never be ashamed to dance. The hashtag not only got O’Brien’s attention, but the support of people like Pharrell Williams, Meghan Trainor, and the king of party himself, Andrew WK. The furor resulted in a massive, star-studded Hollywood dance party for O’Brien, a fundraiser for an anti-bullying organization, and the spread of body-image positivity, all thanks to Twitter.
Using social media to extend a kind gesture doesn’t necessarily have to result in trending hashtags or national headlines; sometimes, a small, passionate community can bring happiness to someone’s life in just the same way. This was the case for a young Minnesota girl, Mackenzie Moretter. When Mackenzie was just a year old, she was diagnosed with Sotos Syndrome, a genetic disorder. Wanting to do something special for her daughter’s 10th birthday, Mackenzie’s mother, Jenny Moretter, invited her friends for a party. Sadly, none of them showed up. Jenny reached out to her own friends on Facebook, asking them to bring their children so Mackenzie could have a fun and memorable birthday. What resulted was a guest list of more than 300 people that included the entire Shakopee, Minnesota fire department; Minnesota Vikings wide-receiver, Charles Johnson, and his family; and even Elsa from Disney’s Frozen (well, someone dressed as her). The party was catered by Sam’s Club and a local restaurant, Mr. Pig’s Stuffed Barbeque, making for quite the party for Mackenzie. A GoFundMe for the party raised over $2,100 toward Sotos Syndrome research.
Facebook Check-ins in Nepal
In the recent earthquakes that struck Nepal, a Facebook feature made communication for survivors and reassurance for families much easier. After a major event like an earthquake, hurricane, flood, etc., Facebook sends a notification to users located in the area, asking them if they’re okay and encouraging them to check in and communicate with their loved ones. In the aftermath of the earthquakes, this served as a method to pinpoint the areas where the most severe destruction had occurred.
Organizing disaster relief for Haiti
While social media is an important tool for victims of a disaster, it’s also useful for those organizing relief-aid abroad. After the massive earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, social media users spread awareness on Twitter and Facebook of aid efforts, including donations of food, supplies, and money, as well as different ways volunteers could join aid workers and provide hands-on support.
Fundraising for Japan
Like the aforementioned earthquakes in Nepal and Haiti, social media played a role in the earthquake and tsunami that affected Japan in 2012, but the global community’s response to these disasters was unique given Japan’s position as an important exporter of media and technology (especially with prevalent smartphone use and the country’s sophisticated communication infrastructure, making the sharing of videos and pictures of affected locations easy). Worldwide, massive fan bases follow the country’s media, including anime, manga, music, and video games. Across the niche pockets of social media, musicians, clothing manufacturers, game developers, and fans who have been inspired by Japan’s numerous cultural exports, rallied together to raise funds towards relief and rebuilding efforts for Japan.
Losing a parent at any age is a difficult, even traumatic event. But for those too young to fully grasp the concept of a parent’s passing, the process can be incredibly confusing and trying. Four-year-old Wyatt Revel faced exactly this when he lost his father suddenly on January 29, 2015. Friends of Wyatt’s mother created a Facebook group, through which people sent packages to Wyatt. When 13-year-old Savanna Gulledge heard about the story, she created a Facebook page called “Letters For Wyatt,” and asked her teachers and classmates to write letters of encouragement to the child. Overnight, the page inflated from 40 members to more than 1,000. Supporters from all over the world sent packages and letters of hope.
Pret A Manger, purveyors of fast food with an organic and sustainable ethos, integrated social media into their recent U.K. food tour. The restaurant chain took to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to announce the locations of their wandering food cart, which offered free, full-portion breakfasts and samples of their lunch menu items. They encouraged customers to post pictures and hashtags of their samples to spread the word. While the campaign was essentially a marketing effort to push their new menu items, Pret A Manger also went out of their way to help feed the hungry and poor.
Honoring a Fallen Veteran
It’s a sad reality when returning veterans are often left without the help they deserve. For some, that includes family or friends to be with and, if they are elderly, to have their care. Jerry Billings was one such veteran. The 69-year-old man, who had previously served in Vietnam, died on Christmas Eve in 2014, in Oklahoma City. No family or friends were identified to make arrangements for his remains or funeral. Christine Hoffman, a city worker, shared the story on social media. In response, hundreds of people throughout the community showed up to pay their respects to Billings, many of whom were fellow veterans.
Dogly is a social media app (available for iOS and Android) centered around man’s best friend. Dogly works a lot like Instagram: Users upload pictures of dogs to the their profile, and other users give the pictures “loves,” the equivalent of “like” on other social networks. Users’ accounts are connected to a shelter or animal rescue, chosen when they first create their profiles. These loves go toward their shelter of choice; the more loves a shelter gets, the higher their chance of winning a grant from Dogly, raffled off at the end of each month.
The footwear company Toms has had a philanthropic public image for some time. Their “buy a pair, give a pair” model, where for each pair of shoes purchased, they donate a pair to a person in need, is a charitable action in its own right. However, Toms created an Instagram campaign, “One Day Without Shoes,” asking users to post a picture of their bare feet along with the hashtag #withoutshoes. For every picture posted this way, Toms donated a pair of shoes.
Instagram is the home of #foodporn. While this sort of social media activity is usually nothing more than the usual inanity that populates social media feeds, it’s easy to forget that, for millions worldwide, warm, clean, and healthy food (and social media) are luxuries they may never experience. In Colombia alone, more than 10 million people must resort to scraping meals from spoiled food, trash, and/or meager portions most of us wouldn’t even call a snack.
To combat the extreme poverty and hunger in the country, ABACO, a food bank in Colombia, created the #MealForShare campaign. Turning the concept of #foodporn on it’ ear, an Instagram account was created to post pictures of the meals the poor people in Colombia eat on a daily basis. Instagram users were then invited to “buy” these meals by donating money toward collecting food for these families. The campaign was an overwhelming success, with more than 185 tons of food being donated.
Pizza is a great equalizer. It’s the ultimate cure for a bad day. It’s been known to calm down a plane-full of stranded passengers. Which explains the reasoning behind the Subreddit r/randomactsofpizza. All silliness aside, there is a philanthropic core to this particular Reddit community, where people commit “random acts of pizza” for any reason: feeding the hungry, cheering up someone who’s going through a difficult time, or making a child’s birthday a bit more exciting and less stressful on the parents. Sure, we may have an (unhealthy) obsession with pizza, but focussing that obsession into a method for feeding those in need is an admirable and noble endeavor.
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