Charity TikTok videos create a nasty morality vibe

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The influencer approach homeless man and asks him for a dollar. “Sorry to bother you,” he says, explaining that he needs money to take the train home. A homeless man with a beard, pushing his things down the street, reaches into his socks and pulls out a ten-dollar bill. Then: His mouth drops open in shock. The influencer revealed that he doesn’t really need the dollar at all. Instead, he wants give man 500 dollars. He hands over the stack of cash. The men hug.

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This meeting was captured in tik tak video uploaded in February by Zachery Dereniowski, known to his 9.3 million followers as @mdmotivator. On his channel, Derenevsky regularly approaches strangers, pretends to be in need, and asks them for a small amount. If people are kind and willing to help him, he returns their money and rewards them with hundreds of dollars. crowdfunding from his followers. After adding a sentimental soundtrack, Derenevsky shares the resulting clips with millions of people who find them touching and motivating.

Derenevsky’s videos are part of a larger genre in which TikTokkers “test” members of the public with money and reward those deemed “good”. hashtag #honest test has 51.5 million views on the platform – among other things, the creators throw wads of money in front of people as “social experimentfilming them to see if they embezzle the money (some of these people homelessness; many of these videos are clearly staged). Ultimately, “dishonest” people are disgraced in front of millions of viewers, and “honest” people are rewarded financially.

Unlike other TikTokkers, Derenevsky doesn’t like to shame – his channel mainly focuses on people who help him and get rewarded as a result. Consequently, his videos are very popular: 38.6 million people watched the meeting with the bearded bum, and 69.9 million people watched it. give 500 dollars a man in a wheelchair asking for help with rent money (despite being in need, the man gave Derenevsky a quarter when asked).

Other creators have had comparable success with similar clips: @steven_schapiro earned 26.2 million views on May’s TikTok titled “Asking Strangers for Gas Money and Then Paying Them Back 100x!!”, and on YouTube “BigDawsTv” earned 1. 5 million views in March. when he pretended to be a bumasked strangers for money and returned them 100 times more than they donated.

It can be difficult for many to see the downside of rewarding strangers for their generosity; during a cost-of-living crisis, it’s nice to see people giving away significant amounts of cash. But these videos raise questions about the nature of contemporary philanthropy.

If the bearded man didn’t want to give Derenevsky any money, wouldn’t he deserve $500? If a child watches these videos, will he believe that every time he gives to a stranger, the stranger should in turn give to him? We are now so accustomed to seeing the world through our screens that many of us forget to question the fact that the camera rotates at all. If someone comes up to you on the street, takes pictures of you and asks for money, are you forced to share? Do vulnerable people have to perform in front of an audience before they are deemed worthy of help?

“I think these videos can create a story about how we should help the poor in need,” says Yale University professor Michael Kraus, a social psychologist who specializes in the study of inequality. “But in reality, everyone deserves, and individual acts of charity are not the solution to poverty.” “Decent poor man” is an archaic concept codified in Elizabethan England Poor Laws, which was designed to distinguish between the poor, who should have been “blamed” for their situation, and those who were not to blame and therefore entitled to help. TikTokers rewarding the homeless for helping out may reinforce the idea that some people are more deserving of well-being than others.

These TikTok’s are bothering Kraus. “They seem deeply inhuman to me. Do the people in the video agree to be used in this way? Can they agree for that amount?” he asks. “If they said no, would they be less deserving of compassion? I think the answers to these questions are troubling.”

However, other scholars point out that these videos can have a positive impact on the viewer. Pat Barclay is an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Guelph who studies “competitive altruism» and ways to can be used to encourage generosity. Barclay says TikTok, like Derenevsky’s, can show kids that “helping others pays off” and that it’s also “safe.” He adds that these videos can encourage viewers to help strangers in need.

“If we see someone helping and then get credit for it, then we are more likely to be helpful in turn,” he says. “It raises the standard of what is expected of us: we can’t just sit back and be selfish cheapskates when others help so much – we look mean by comparison. So it forces observers to “improve their game”.

However, influencers themselves may be the ones who benefit the most from these videos, earning fame and fortune through their work. Deborah Small is a psychology professor at Wharton who studies philanthropy, morality, and prosocial behavior. Small explored the ways in which we judge the motives of others for charity—we end up being cynical about people with seemingly selfish motives. But, she notes, when people donate money online and share it with others on social media, “it’s good for charity” because it encourages other donations.

“We try to encourage people to tell other people about their generosity when people don’t want to because it seems boastful and inauthentic,” Small says. “Is it right or wrong to share your charity? If you think about what it means in terms of your motive, it doesn’t seem right, but if you think about it in terms of the impact it can have, it seems like the morally right thing to do.”

Thus, videos like Derenevsky’s can have a positive impact by inspiring viewers to help those in need. From a purely consequentialist point of view, the lives of those who receive the money have changed regardless of the influencer’s motives (and the difficult questions about philanthropy raised by this meeting). However, as these videos become more and more popular – at the end of May, Derenevsky was chat show interview Piers Morgan uncensoredWe must be wary of their potential impact. At worst, such videos can cause viewers to “test” the homeless before offering them money, perpetuating archaic notions of the deserving poor. At best, they promote individual charitable causes rather than larger structural and political changes.

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