Saturday, 23 January 2010

Why Facebook 'charity' is costing lives but saving egos

Of all the negative aspects of human existence Facebook has inadvertently highlighted over the last half decade, by far the most repulsive are the 'causes' and 'charity group' collectives of egotistical creators and members, who either genuinely believe that they are doing good, or are simply making themselves feel better at the cost of having changed exactly nothing.

An example of the type of group can be seen here:

The premise of these groups is disturbing; they are invariably established by some unheard of 'philanthropist' who claims to have the financial clout to lend some real support to the 'up to 200,000 people [who] may have died in last week's tragic earthquake in Haiti, with countless others injured or left without a home.'

However, rather than simply stumping up the cash, this human being has decided that no, he does not wish to simply open his chequebook and give generously, as he clearly believes he has the power to do, but rather he is going to correlate the support he is prepared to give to the number of people who join his group.

This amounts to no more than a misery-fuelled ego boost : 'Hey there, you don't want to see people dying in anguish and poverty do you? No? Of course you don't. You're a person. So join my group, be my friend (because I am bloody great and noble and have sex with me?) and I will send some money to these poor starving (are they starving or just dying?)'s all about people. And I have the money to help, and I really want to help, but only if you and everyone else you know will be my friend and see how great I am.'

This, however, isn't the end of the problem. Because upon closer inspection of the monetary values offered per person in these groups it becomes clear that this philanthropist, far from being a wealthy do-gooder eager to give something back, is just an ordinary person who has decided he wants to donate a stunningly mundane sum, but in doing so has resolved that if he has to chuck a couple of tenners at an international crisis of some scale, he might as well try and buy some friends in the process.

For instance the above group offers a princely £5 per 500 members. £5. He currently has just over 2,000 members, so he will be giving £20, and suddenly this 'philanthropist' appears to have similar financial means to most people with an internet connection who is merely indulging in a sponsored friend making session. At the expense of a humanitarian disaster. Charming.

The fact that people join these groups shows there is a desire among the membership for help to be sent to Haiti, and that they wish to do their bit. However, people are lazy, and if they think they can help by clicking a mouse, then that's probably all they'll do.

They join the group, and suddenly their massive sense of guilt they potentially might have when they see a few corpses rotting by the side of the road in the scorching heat is gone. Because they did their bit. These facebook groups effectively nullify the potential to get people to actually donate themselves, rather than lend their name to a group in the belief that they are making an impact, when in fact the money being sent in their name, in this instance, is a penny.

Facebook 'charity' is a microcosm of westernised society's attempts at charity. Every crisis must have fundraisers or celebrity backers. It's not enough to give money, we instead expect to be entertained before we consider being generous. Yes, Haiti's been flattened, but where is Bob Geldof's live musical event?

The number of mouse clicks it takes to join these facebook groups is equal to the effort it takes to donate money to the appeal. Why is it not possible to donate generously and meaningfully? To donate and show humility? To donate without shouting it from your next facebook status?

Ben Parker and James Mayo

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


An odd decision, was my initial reaction to Home Secretary Alan Johnson's confirmation that the government were making the extremist group Islam4UK illegal.

Whilst some of the group's actions, such as the planned march in Wootton Bassett were certainly questionable on grounds of taste, there seemed to me a great deal of hypocrisy in the manner in which they have been treated by the British media.

High profile cases such as the British National Party appearing on BBC's Question Time have caused arguments in the media for balancing countering extremism against allowing for free speech, but the Islam4UK case has been afforded none of this depth of analysis.

The fact that Islam4UK have been made illegal under anti-terrorism legislation is also puzzling. It is difficult to find evidence of any terrorist activity to which they can directly be linked, and I have struggled to find any mention of this in the news reports that have been written about the issue today.

Their views are admittedly extreme, but within in a political and social sphere, and crucially, to westernised ears. Their protest planned for the Wootton Bassett march for example, was based on emphasising that there were casualties on both sides in a military conflict, and whilst the argument could have been made in a more tasteful and constructive manner, it remains a valid point.

The real issue to examine here, is that the current government has treated similar extremist organisations with little apparent equality. They have not taken action against other groups that could easily be categorised along similar lines, such as the British National Party and the English Defence League, quite possibly because they know that tackling such groups head on would be more politically dangerous, especially in an election year.

It is also worth noting that the public have been whipped up into somewhat of an outrage regarding the Wootton Bassett march plans, in part lead by The Sun newspaper's morale crusade, and a politically cynical observer might suggest that clamping down hard on the group causing the upset was not ever going to be harmful to poll ratings.

Monday, 11 January 2010

A night of great drama

Two fascinating sports games were played out across the globe last night, with two extraordinary comebacks to boot.

In Angola, the African Cup of Nations finally got underway on the pitch, after the tragic events of last week have dominated the news headlines off it.

In the opening game, hosts Angola played Mali, and proceeded to take an emphatic lead, with a brace of goals from Flavio, before two penalties had given Angola a 4-0 scoreline in their favour and had apparently decided the result.

Whilst Barcelona's Seydou Keita pulled a goal back for Mali with just 11 minutes left, and Frédéric Kanouté added a second with a header in the 88th minute, it all appeared to be too little, too late.

Amazingly however, Keita expertly slid in his second to make it 4-3, and with just 16 seconds left on the clock in injury time, Mustapha Yatabare was on hand to turn in a rebound from a save, and complete one of the most unlikely comebacks seen in a football game.

Mustapha Yatabare equalises in stoppage time

Meanwhile, across the globe in the outskirts of Phoenix in Arizona, the host Cardinals dramatically rescued a Wild Card round playoff victory following an inspired comeback by the Green Bay Packers in an epic struggle.

The game, which comfortably lasted three and a half hours, played out like the best action thriller one could imagine, with drama, intrigue, heroes and villains, controversy and the most dramatic of endings.

The Cardinals had rolled out to a sizeable lead, but slowly and surely the Packers had clawed their way back into the contest, helped by inspired plays such as this Greg Jennings catch.

But with both coaches trying occasionally radical tactics to retain the ball, the game began to play out in basketball fashion, if you had the ball, you simply had to score before conceding possession. Thus the score rose as touchdown was met with touchdown.

The blows continued to be traded, the Cardinals took the lead, only for the Packers to restore parity. Defensive ability was nowhere to be seen, and the game was all the better for it.

It appeared, however, to be coming to a slightly anti-climactic ending, when a relatively easy field goal attempt by Neil Rackers looked set to send the Cardinals through with just 14 seconds to go.

Rackers attempts to win the game.

The miss was dramatic, but ensured that the game would go to overtime, as such a thrilling match-up deserved to.

So when the Packers won the coin toss in overtime, it looked as if they had the green light to drive and score the winning touchdown to seal an utterly improbably come-from-behind win. Instead, this happened:

It was a breathtaking spectacle, a marathon of emotions and draining physical plays, but it left you adrenalised just having witnessed it.

Two classic examples in one breathless evening of sport's ability to mesmerise.

Monday, 4 January 2010

'We can't go on like this'

The new Tory campaign poster manages to achieve the impressive double of featuring what looks from certain angles like a half-melted attempt at moulding a wax statue of Jeff from Peep Show, alongside one of the most depressing election slogans of recent memory.

As the Newsnight political panel correctly pointed out, 'We can't go on like this' is hardly the bright optimistic approach that 'Things can only get better' and 'Britain deserves better' at least attempted to inspire. Instead we are left with the plea of someone who sounds as if they are in the dying throes of a failing marriage.

The fact that the poster conveys the message so confidently as if the public are all in a desperate state of near-suicidal thought ends up missing its primary purpose of tapping into the feelings of the electorate.

Still, Cameron's choice of pursuing 'We need change' is, as we know, the fail safe political approach to an election. Everyone wants at least some degree of change all the time, as sadly very few people's lives are perfect.

Cunningly, this 'change' can remain unspecific in policy and direction, as the party can then leave it loosely in the mind of the voters come election day, hoping that they'll turn up to the polls after a miserable day in a job they hate, recall the slogan, and place a cross in the appropriate box.

On a more serious note, the general election of 2010 looks to be an exciting prospect, with there being every chance that we may have a hung parliament come May. Whilst this would certainly slow the progress of any 'change', it could possibly lead to a more focused and considered political arena for thorough debate, where issues would have to be thrashed out on an individual level, rather than relying on the comfortable tide of party politics.