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Giving beat: 'Save Darfur' Facebook philanthropy falls flat

  • Article by: Jean Hopfensperger
  • Star Tribune
  • April 29, 2014 - 6:05 PM

The “Save Darfur” cause on Facebook drew more than 1 million members between 2007 and 2010, drawing attention to the globally condemned human rights atrocities there.

But beyond publicly supporting one of Facebook’s most well-known causes, what else did those members do?

Not a whole lot — at least on Facebook, according to a recent study published in the journal Sociological Science.

A full 99.76 percent of members never donated money on Facebook; 72 percent didn’t recruit friends or family to the cause, the study found.

And over the three-year period, just $100,000 was raised to combat the massive killings and attacks on civilians that drew international outcry.

While members may have supported Darfur in other ways, the Save Darfur campaign illustrates that social media is not the magic bullet of cause fundraising, the study found.

“The study is an important counterbalance to the unbridled enthusiasm for the powers of social media,” said Kevin Lewis, sociology professor at the University of California, San Diego, one of three academics who conducted the research.

“There is no inherent magic,” he said. “Social media can activate interpersonal ties but won’t necessarily turn ordinary citizens into hyperactivists.”

Activism is aided by membership in a community of like-minded folks, other researchers have reported, which raises the question of whether this online community was strong enough to inspire greater action. That said, the report didn’t measure whether the members donated money through other organizations and couldn’t measure the impact that a massive campaign could have on onlookers.

“If our data are any guide, Facebook is less useful a mobilizing tool than a marketing tool,” the study said. “Although it enabled more than 1 million individuals to register their discontent with the situation in Darfur, it largely failed to transform these initial acts of movement participation into a deep and sustained commitment to the work.”

 

Jean Hopfensperger • 612 673-4511

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