This video with the fairly self-explanatory title was posted to the Magic of Rahat YouTube channel in March 2014. Since this time, the video has gone viral across numerous social media platforms and has been viewed almost 24 million times. Through the obviously heart-warming connotations within the video, the audience looks at this act of kindness committed by Rahat in order to foster the desired reaction by the audience of “Awwwwwwwwwwww :)” (this might not be the technical term). Despite the sentiment and the positive outcome this has had upon the homeless man in the video, there are several questions here that need to be addressed. Namely, why not just give the man the money? And more importantly for our conversation, why film it?
In a one word explanation: Schadenfreude. Just incase you don’t speak german, this refers to pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune. Now albeit this being such a happy-go-lucky definition, there is some evidence to suggest that social media schadenfreude exists. Researches from The Ohio State University argue that
“When people are in a negative mood, they start to show more interest in the less attractive, less successful people on their social media sites,”(Knobloch-Westerwick in Grabmeier, 2014)
Essentially this identifies that in order to make ourselves feel better, we look at those worse off than us. Poverty specifically is a key area with this issue.
Despite the hero-ing of social media in the quest to eliminate poverty by:
- The sharing of resources
- Providing mutual support and opportunities
- Creating strength in numbers (Alfridi, 2011)
An unexpected consequence has arisen through the proliferation of social media campaigns, specifically within the western world. This issue being objectification. Objectification of the poor, and of the developing world itself as argued by Michael Matheson Miller, director of the film Poverty, Inc.
“A lot of times in our charity, we have tended to treat poor people like objects — objects of our charity, objects of our pity, objects of our compassion,” (Matheson miller in, Horan, 2016).
Our lottery winner example also represents the appearance of another trend, the rise of the so-called “social experiment”.
In here, social experiment is a very loose term in which every person with a video camera and idea is a trained psychologist capable of identifying human traits through seemingly correct/incorrect actions (please note my intense sarcasm). The issue here is that these experiments represent key social issues that do actually occur, and more often than not, they are staged, therefore distorting the audience’s perceptions of real issues. Becca Stanek (2014) provides some fantastic examples of both real and staged social experiments such as the 10 Hours of walking New York City as a woman, or this example of a Fake Homeless “Social Experiments”.
This case above specifically identifies the exploitation of real and present issues by these YouTubers, in order to gain views and receive social media notoriety.
Of course social media does have the potential to positively impact the lives of individuals who are suffering from issues such as poverty, but it is extremely important to recognise that these ARE people, not just characters on a screen, or objects. But if we look again now to our homeless friend in the beginning, it shows these stories can sometimes have a happy ending.
Alfridi, A 2011, Social networks: their role in addressing poverty, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, posted March 2011, accessed 24th march 2016,
Grabmeier, J 2014, In A Bad Mood? Head to Facebook and Find Someone Worse Off, The Ohio State Univeristy, posted 2nd October 2014, https://news.osu.edu/news/2014/10/02/in-a-bad-mood-head-to-facebook-and-find-someone-worse-off/
Horan, A 2016, Against Poverty Porn: Why Our Approach To Foreign Aid Is Outdated, Paternalistic And Misguided, Junkee, 23rd March 2016, accessed 24th March 2016, http://junkee.com/against-poverty-porn-why-our-approach-to-foreign-aid-is-outdated-paternalistic-and-misguided/75081
Stanek, B 2014, The Big Problem With All of Those Viral ‘Social Experiment’ Videos, Mic.com, 24th November, accessed 24th March 2016, http://mic.com/articles/104986/the-big-problem-with-all-of-those-viral-social-experiment-videos#.x6vQTkrVB