It is a delicious irony suitable for for the latest diva of over-the-top corporate pop (As an old fogey, I confess I’m still surprised at how much Ms. Gaga’s persona is so dependent on what Madonna has already done. But back to our story): A denizen of social media and public attention announces via social media her ambition to sign off social media until $1 million dollars is raised on/for World AIDS Day (tomorrow, 1 December). She is joined by a number of other celebrities, including Kim Kardashian, her sister, Khloé, David LaChapelle, Justin Timberlake, Usher, Serena Williams and Elijah Wood (according to The New York Times). Lady Gaga has taken brave stands against torture and against Arizona’s immigration bills, and we have every reason to believe – nay, be thankful – that she is again using her popularity for a cause of those who can not speak to millions of people at a time. As for the celebrities’ signing off Twitter, Facebook, et al., are we also seeing a challenge to the ever-present hegemony of social media in our lives?
The effort is encapsulated in the charity movement ‘,’ which raises money to help children with AIDS in Africa and works to limit the spread of the disease. The effort, like so many in our world, depends on blogs and social-media outreach to build a community of like-minded donors, activists, and supporters. Yet many of the charity’s biggest celebrity supporters have signed off their Twitter accounts or will do so before midnight tonight. And they will remain off until the $1 million comes in.
The effort works in conjunction with Alicia Keys’ ‘‘ campaign that kicked off back at the end of September. That part of the campaign might include a dropping off social media, but it includes the latest smartphone technology in that one can buy a Buy Life shirt or take a photo of the barcode on someone else’s shirt shirt to donate $10 via your text messaging service (One may also text ‘BUYLIFE’ to 90999 if a buxom young woman or a hunky office colleague is not wearing the requisite t-shirt tomorrow).
The World AIDS Day charity blitz thus tends to call attention to the value of technology and social media precisely as celebrities set them aside for a while. The interplay of social media, technology, celebrity, and charity are hardly new. But as Amy Wallace of The Times has pointed out: “Ms. Keys is up to something slightly different. She knows that she’s not alone in thinking that America increasingly treats its celebrities like commodities. But she believes she’s the first to tether that reality to technology to do some good.”
The final push today and tomorrow will include a number of celebrities’ ‘funerals’ as they offer one last tweet or Facebook update. Most of their messages encourage donors to buy the (social-media) lives of these celebrities back, so that they may return to their tweeting and the million-plus can go toward fighting AIDS.
For all its good intentions and work, Alex Goodmark laments the comparative small-ball being played by such big names stirring so much chatter on and about social media:
Doing nothing on social media is just about the easiest imaginable way to leverage the power of celebrity, and $1 million seems paltry when you think that Lady Gaga has more than 7 million twitter followers and 24 million Facebook fans. She alone should be able to extort $10 million from her hordes of admirers in a single day. I say aim higher.
Touché. Even if only Lady Gaga’s Twitter followers donated $.50 each, they would more than double the targeted amount. And if we start counting days instead of hours in achieving that goal, it would be difficult not to conclude that Malcom Gladwell of The New Yorker magazine was onto something with hisencouraging real change, precisely because it is ‘the easiest imaginable way’ to give a sense/pretense of community.
But if the Buy Life campaign succeeds quickly and/or by collecting well over its stated goal, then we will see that openly and strategically not using social media is as effective as using it regularly. No matter what the medium, timing is everything. Perhaps we are all ready for a little tweet break, and Alicia Keys, Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, and their peers have thought up a clever way to turn that break into a great contribution to a critical cause.