Posted by: David Harley | March 12, 2011

Faith, Hope, Charity and Manipulation

I’ve just been seeing a shortened URL circulating around the (sigh…) twitterverse. That URL actually refers to this page: http://www.microsoft.com/about/corporatecitizenship/en-us/our-actions/in-the-community/disaster-and-humanitarian-response/community-involvement/disaster-response.aspx. Which is a useful supplement to Google’s Crisis Response page at http://www.google.com/crisisresponse/japanquake2011.html and the other resources I’ve started to point to here and elsewhere.

But this tweet (perhaps I should call it a chaintweet, by analogy with chainletters) from @bing makes me feel decidedly queasy:

How you can #SupportJapan – http://binged.it/fEh7iT. For every retweet, @bing will give $1 to Japan quake victims, up to $100K.

Not just because it looks like some marketroid’s bright idea on how to generate some additional exposure for Bing by capitalizing on the disaster: though that feels a bit too close to comfort to the SEO and social media manipulations we associate with fake AV and other malware. “Look. We’re being charitable. But only if you tell lots of people about it!”

But because it also feels much too much like one of those hoaxes about Bill Gates sharing his fortune, or how you can do good by raising money for cancer research without it costing you anything at all, simply by forwarding an email. (You may have heard such easy options described as slacktivism.)

Well, I guess I can’t deny this initiative the oxygen of publicity (not that any coverage I grant or deny it will make much difference in the grand scheme of the internet…) In fact, this blog owes its existence to an uneasy feeling I’ve had for a while that it’s better to distinguish between chainmail that isn’t entirely useless and chainletters that have no merit at all.

But I also can’t deny that I feel manipulated by Bing, whereas other initiatives don’t give me that piecemeal queasy feeling. And I feel bad about having that feeling, because in the face of disasters like this, what do my sensibilities matter?

But some of us who’ve spent many years trying to mitigate the impact of hoaxes like those I’ve mentioned above will be grinding their teeth about this for a while, I suspect. I really wish they’d just said they were donating a hundred grand.

David Harley CITP FBCS CISSP
Small Blue-Green World

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