Skip to main content

The Nature Of Viral Altruism And How To Make It Stick

There is no doubt that the rise of social media has supported the monumental and rapid spreading of information, social norms, and trends. Viral altruism is a phenomenon that taps into the network effect of social media. One such example of viral altruism that is discussed in depth by Van Der Linden in his article is the ALS Ice Bucket challenge. This challenge, which included dumping a bucket of cold ice on yourself and donating money in support of ALS research, is regarded as one of the most successful social media campaigns of its time. The article breaks down the components of what made the campaign so successful, and how to structure future campaigns to be effective. Van Der Linden took a psychological approach which he calls SMART Campaigns: “campaigns that successfully leverage social (S) influence processes, establish a moral (M) imperative to act, inspire (positive) affective reactions (AR), and are able to translate (T) and convert social momentum into sustained real-world contributions.”

Personally, I challenge the moral imperative to act portion of “SMART” campaigns. I argue that the majority of online viral altruistic movements are due to the want to be part of an ingroup participating in altruism vs the outgroup. Other motives may be the addictive nature of “likes” and the desire to seem as though you are altruistic among your peers. One similar example to the ALS challenge is the cinnamon challenge which had no altruistic objective.

The article presents a great intersection between psychology and what we are learning in networks. Specifically it investigates how emotion, in-group/out-group effects, and exposure influences the strength and quantity of the edges of the graph of how the altruistic movement spreads. One area to explore further is how likely nearest friends in the graph are likely to donate to the ALS cause given that their friends even if they have all done the challenge. The paper also argues that viral altruism elicits superficial engagement with the cause. I’d argue that while it may not have elicited a personal engagement with all the participants, it created a global/societal engagement which was real.




Leave a Reply

Blogging Calendar

September 2018