The Difference Between Trying to Help and Trying to Exploit During a Crisis (And why we should be smart enough to tell the difference)

Sorry, Facebook. Apparently, no good deed goes unpunished by social media. The Knight Canney Group examines why?

What do Mark Zuckerberg and Duri Cosmetics have in common? Both are being harshly criticized for steps taken in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Across social media, where no good deed goes unpunished, Zuckerberg and Facebook are being denounced for activating Safety Check for the bombings in Paris but not for those in Beirut. The fact that more than 4.1 million people were able to use it is apparently negated by Facebook’s negligence of the tragedy in Lebanon.

In the aftermath of tragedy and terror, the impulse to help kicks into high gear. Whether it’s donating money or blood, people line up to do their part. Feeling helpless is often a great motivator to do something.

For many, that something was to show solidarity with the French, America’s oldest ally, by using Facebook’s photo filter. Tens of millions of people did this, and millions more criticized the move as an empty gesture and then demanded, “Where are the flags for Lebanon? Syria? Russia?”

Granted, changing your photo on Facebook doesn’t actively help any more than wearing a pink ribbon cures breast cancer. But it makes people feel better, feel part of a worldwide moment of compassion. When people are confused and hurting, where is the harm?

The harm, say critics, comes from viewing the world only from a Western point of view—regarding both what rises to the level international tragedy, and in thinking that a presence on social media is good enough to show you care. Yes, Facebook is an American company, but one with more than a billion users worldwide. So, it should have a global sensibility when it comes to tragedy. Fair enough. But the level of outrage in the wake of an attempted good deed seems outsized. Hundreds of millions of people were able to communicate in a crisis, able to know their friends and family were safe. Facebook may have fumbled, but it still offered something valuable.

Whether or not one believes that corporations are people too, commercial enterprises often want to help, and do. Still others are quick to exploit.

Duri Cosmetics may have won the award for “most tasteless blatant PR stunt” this year, with it’s invitation to “pay respects and show support” via a blue, white, and red manicure.

Now this is worthy of scathing derision. There was nothing remotely altruistic in this promotion. No proceeds donated, no matching dollars sent to any kind of charity, not even an acknowledgment that people were in crisis.

What Facebook did and what Duri did are two different things. One tried to help. One tried to exploit. The righteously outraged among us should learn the difference.

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