15 May 2013

Is Social Media Poverty Porn's Kryptonite?

New York City - Criticism of pornography centers on the morality of its depictions and the exploitation of people involved.

News reports and fundraising campaigns about poverty run into similar traps when stories strip people of their dignity and, in a similar sense, objectify them. Activists decry this as poverty porn.

Today, at the New York University Woolworth building, filmmakers, NGO staff, foundation representatives and UN agency workers came together to discuss the problem of poverty porn and the potential power of social media to prevent it. The discussion was conducted privately (in accord with so-called Chatham House rules) in order to protect the identity of the participants and encourage a more honest conversation.

Part of the problem here is poverty porn makes money.

Marketing and communications teams for NGOs rigorously test messages to determine the best way to raise money. It’s clear that people connect more to the story of an individual, usually a child, as opposed to a family, community or group of people. Poverty porn is borne out of a well-intended attempt to raise money for poverty alleviation programs.

Some say the ends justify the means when it comes to fundraising for programs.

“The use of poverty porn is a desperate attempt by charities to stay relevant,” said one of the participants.

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Also, see this collection of tweets from the event by Linda Raftree.