COMMENT

When the tragedy of the Australian bushfires first made global headlines, it didn't take long for online celebrities and influencers to use their clout to try raise some money for the victims and those fighting the blazes.

In most cases, this was wonderful news. All over the world, touched by the loss of human and animal lives and the sheer scale of the devastation of the big red continent, people with the power and the means to donate big amounts pledged what they could.

All over social media, there were posts from people urging others to dig deep and donate whatever they can. It was a wonderful display of how social media can connect us in times of struggle and grief and how the power of this connectivity can be harnessed to make a positive difference, even in catastrophic situations.

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The issue is that not all fundraisers are equal.

While there are a number of incredibly worthy efforts to raise money - comedian Celeste Barber's fundraiser being one of the most obvious ones - there are also some that question the morality and ethics of this kind of online activism.

You see, Celeste Barber didn't ask anyone to retweet or share one of her posts, saying she'd donate if people shared.

Her growing popularity, while a consequence of her very successful fundraiser, was never one of her goals with the fundraiser. The fundraising page included no self-promotion and there was no attempt on her part to monetise any part of her charitable effort. You didn't have to share her page in order to donate to the cause, she didn't expect you to share her name anywhere as a condition of her fundraising effort.

People stand in front of images projected onto the sails of the Sydney Opera House. The projections are to show support for communities affected by bushfires around Australia and the firefighters who have been defending them. Photo / Getty Images
People stand in front of images projected onto the sails of the Sydney Opera House. The projections are to show support for communities affected by bushfires around Australia and the firefighters who have been defending them. Photo / Getty Images

Seemingly, many other celebrities and people of influence pledged generous donations and urged their followers to donate, without asking for anything in return that would benefit them.

That's not always the case.

A lot of influencers and online celebrities are telling followers they will donate money for every like or share. They are essentially telling you they will make a donation if you like their post.

The "if" in that sentence is really what matters. It's conditional giving. I'll give money if you "like" my post, otherwise I won't. Under the guise of raising awareness for the tragedy, they're actually raising awareness to themselves.

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I won't link or embed to any of those here because doing so would be amplifying their message but, if you use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you've likely come across some of them. If I had a dollar for every time I've seen one of those, I too would have a lot of money to donate to the bushfires.

These cannot be called "scams" (although there are plenty of those around the Australian bushfires too) in the sense that they are not necessarily promising you something they will not give you - although the ones who refuse to disclose how much they donate in the end do leave some people with legitimate questions.

But the world is shades of grey, not black and white. Things are not either fully good or fully bad. Sometimes they're just ... icky. Like when you take a tragedy such as the devastating scale of the bushfires, combine it with your thirst for online popularity and create a fundraiser to raise your profile while raising funds.

Make no mistake: likes, shares ... all of that engagement translates into dollars for these influencers. In the attention economy they live in, some might be getting a lot more than they're donating.

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It's opportunistic and, while not illegal, it's does pose some questions around the trouble of regulating fundraising in the age of social media.

There are a number of legitimate ways to help the victims of the bushfires and those fighting them every day. We've listed some here but there are more.

You can give money directly to charities or individual fundraising efforts that don't seek to increase the online presence of the individual collecting the donation.

There is nothing wrong with a celebrity using their platform to call for people to donate. Raising awareness is a wonderful thing and there are a number of amazing people out there using their fame for good.

Those who are truly doing it out of a selfless desire to help the victims will suggest you donate and/or will use their social media to let you know they have donated, but will not impose conditions on their own donation. If they are serious about helping, they'll help with what they can, regardless of whether or not you "like" or "share" their post.

Everything else is shameless self-promotion.