Celebrity Social Media Activism: Effective or Insulting?

I read yesterday that several celebrities, most notably Lady Gaga, are joining Alicia Keys in her fundraising efforts for Keys’ charity, Keep A Child Alive. The goal is to raise $1 million as quickly as possible in honor of World AIDS Day, which is Wednesday. So far so good, right? The only thing that I find odd is their strategy: Keys, Gaga will lead the charge in signing off Twitter and Facebook until the $1 million target. Hm.
It’s important to emphasize that I do not find celebrity charity efforts inherently hypocritical or self-congratulatory. I am glad that so many wealthy and powerful people try to make a positive impact using that money and influence. Also, even if their motives aren’t totally altruistic, there is still money going to worthy causes.

It’s quite clear as well that Keys and the others are trying to reach people, and remain relevant, by using social media to raise money and awareness. This tactic is working so far; the mainstream media doesn’t run a story every time a celeb tries to raise money.

I think the problem for me is twofold: first, the participants seem to be trying to “punish” the public, their fans in particular, with their internet silence. Second, there is the slight discomfort that occurs any time extravagantly wealthy people encourage ordinary Americans to give to charity (think of American Idol Gives Back).

I don’t actually follow any famous people on Facebook or Twitter, so perhaps the impact of their logging off is lost on me. But it just seems strangely lazy and yes, narcissistic, to just stop doing something that wasn’t particularly enriching people’s lives in the first place. Especially if you’re doing so during a bad economy, when unemployment is high and many people are having trouble paying their bills.

Honestly, I don’t think this is a horrible thing they are doing; they may actually raise a million dollars for a good cause. Lady Gaga alone has over 7 million follower on Twitter. And I hope they do succeed. I just can’t help wondering if presuming to deprive people of their internet presence is the best way to do it.

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