With the rise of social media, and its power to harness “the voice of the crowd” to effect change, it’s become easier to enlist the masses to support a cause. That new-found ability should not enable us to set aside our ethics because the technology is new. The same rules against bullying and using people in need still apply.
Take the case of the Denton, Texas Travel Center’s flagpole. As described here by Bud Kennedy in the Fort Worth, Texas Star-Telegram, their flagpole (unused for ten years) was spotted by an Oklahoma country singer who I will not name here. He shot a video describing the problem of having an empty flagpole in that particular area (The United States, specifically Texas) while engaged in that particular business (serving travelers through that area). In the process of trying to get a flag raised, he recorded the whole confrontation, including a company employee lowering the flag this fellow hung while trespassing. He edited it into a YouTube video with appropriately supportive music. As the video went viral, calls for a boycott ensued, and, in the end, the corporation apologized. There’s a new flag up, too. So now the boycotters are not boycotting, the Oklahoma country singer got his name in the paper and a bunch of pageviews for his YouTube video for resolving an issue that wasn’t an issue until he made it an issue. So now everything’s okay, right?
Well, how about organ donation? In this release from earlier this year, the CEO of Facebook announced a new feature: you can now add your organ donation status to your Facebook timeline. Never mind the fact that you could, if you chose, list that information in your profile in prose. Now there is a button to push, a category to add. And a brand new thing to insist upon if you were going to be Facebook friends with someone, a requirement for contact, a method of exclusion. While that was not the CEO’s intention, I’m sure, these things do happen. And this announcement was made, by the way, just a couple of weeks before the IPO for Facebook went live. The personal gain from the release is debatable, but if any publicity is good publicity….
I’m not against flying the flag, but I’m also not against an empty flagpole, particularly if it’s broken. I’m not against public confirmation of organ donation status, but I’m also not against keeping that information quiet. I’m not against a little gratuitous PR (oh look! this is my blog!), but I am of the opinion that if you’re actually interested in doing good for more than just yourself, publicizing your actions takes up time and energy that you could be using to do more good. So does filming. And YouTube videos. And reprogramming a social networking website with millions of members.
I am against mass pressure to do something you don’t want to do when refusal is completely acceptable. Admittedly though, there are causes you favor no matter who benefits most. Where do we draw the line? Simple: it’s the answer to the question “who’s getting used?”