Taking Slacktivism to a Whole New Level

Researchers find social media philanthropy is not as effective as it looks.

A new study by researchers from Johns Hopkins University,* published in the March issue of the journal Sociological Science, found that “some users share updates about online charitable giving without following through.”

These users either brag about their philanthropic aims without actually donating the full amount, or they post about charitable donations and later delete their gifts.

Angelo Mele, Mario Macis and Nicola Lacetera analyzed data from HelpAttack!, a social media app, that tracks charitable giving to organizations such as the American Red Cross, Best Friends Animal Society, and Homes for Our Troops.

Researchers followed the progress made on nearly 3,500 pledges through the app:

  • 64 percent were fulfilled
  • 13 percent were partially fulfilled
  • 16 percent were deleted

But here’s the most interesting part:

“The proportion of deleted pledges was seen to be higher among users who had broadcast their pledges on a social media platform.”

“While we found that broadcasting is positively associated with donations, some individuals appeared to broadcast a pledge and then delete it,” Angelo Mele, a co-author of the study, said in a statement.

For these users, the authors found, it is more important to appear to be doing good than to follow through with their announcements.

The researchers also looked at how social reach translates into donations. In their experiment, the authors urged social media users to donate to Heifer International.

“The campaign reached 6.4 million Facebook users and generated many ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ but resulted in just 30 donations.”

It would seem that social giving isn’t as easy as convincing your sister to dump a bucket of ice over her head.

*Full disclosure: I work at an independent organization headquartered at Hopkins, but I am in no way affiliated with any of their research or academic programming.

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