Forward this message to help save 1,000,000 puppies.

This afternoon, I’ve been having an interesting exchange on Twitter with @flayman.

It started with a Retweet he made.


Ho hum, thought I, and responded to the originator, on my own account; not on behalf of, or associated with, @flayman.

Twitter being what it is, I responded in my customary terse manner.


This lead to a bit of a ‘tiff’ not with the originator, but with @flayman.


So after some intervening mincing and slapping, we got around to discussing where I was coming from.

Somewhere on the Internet, I expect there’s a rule about forwarded emails, texts, tweets or whatever, that claim to be some kind of self-fulfilling prophesy.

Forward this email and Bill Gates will give all his money to 2 million African children.

Forward this text message to support breast cancer victims.

So to my first point. My reaction would have been precisely the same, whatever the ‘cause’ was in which I was being implored to retweet.

The reason for my reaction is two fold and while I’m applying it to this instance on twitter, it applies equally to SMS messages, emails or chain letters.

Firstly, there’s the bandwidth consumption, on Twitter’s infrastructure, on the internet, on 3G networks and on client devices themselves.

The second part also applies to the recent fad of wearing plastic wristbands to denote support for this or that cause. And it is this:

What good does it actually do?

It marks you out as a ‘good’ or ‘right-thinking’ person. As such it’s self aggrandising, whether it be for popularity or self-esteem.

@flayman thinks that, “if your friends see that you stand up for a demographic they may have pause to think.”

I don’t stand up for demographics. And if the mentally ill are a single demographic then I doubly don’t stand up for it. I don’t support schizophrenics who fail to take their medication then go out and kill people. I don’t support sociopaths or psychopaths.

Also, most of my friends are cynical bastards who would have responded much as I did. Moreover, if they were people with a bigoted or stigmatising view of mental health overall, they wouldn’t be my friend in the first place (or at least would be audited out pretty sharpish).

But is it also, as @flayman would have it, “better than nothing”? Is it a ‘nothing-to-lose’ act? I don’t think it is.

If I’m correct, and people are motivated to act in ways they perceive to be altruistic for their own self-interest, then their perceptions bear scrutiny.

What if the act of forwarding or retweeting a message (or wearing a wristband*) satisfies that urge, whereas otherwise, it would have been necessary to donating money, goods or your time?

Some, and I don’t doubt that @flayman is amongst them, willingly donate to causes, whether or not someone retweeted something. Did the retweet benefit them or raise their awareness to the cause? I doubt it.

Did some other twitterers simply retweet the message as a way to grab some reflected glory without actually doing anything of actual use? I’d bet my car on it.

So the net result then? Bandwidth was consumed, no additional real-terms yield for the cause, and a bunch of twatterers got to make themselves look like they’re something without actually ever being of any help at all.

Less than a zero-sum game.


* the argument about wristbands yielding cash donations is moot due to the existence of, and market for, counterfeit wristbands, which shows that enough people care more about the appearance that the principle.

UPDATE: A good response from @flayman in the comments.

9 thoughts on “Forward this message to help save 1,000,000 puppies.

  1. I do think that retweeting causes is worthy. In this instance it is not fair to say words to the effect that anyone who is prejudiced against mental illness wouldn’t be my friend. You may be surprised. It is very subtle. Depression is regarded as the “common cold” of mental illness, yet many people would be tempted to suggest that the sufferer “just get on with it” or similar. The point is to help sufferers to understand that there is acceptance and to encourage them to get help instead of, for example, self medicating with alcohol. Many sufferers, particularly those who are depressed, see their condition as a personal failure. As the author of this post and I are both subscribed to anti-depressants, we both know that it needn’t go untreated. I want my followers to know that I agree with that sentiment. There is nothing self-aggrandizing about it. It’s merely a roll call of support.

  2. I’m not sure, I think if you do these “national conciousness” things and follow it up with a very specific line of fundraising, you can benefit from the effect. Something along the lines of “…we’ve managed to get x thousand retweets on twitter…” may well appeal to the man in the street (I’m sure there’s a scientific name for this, but because I don’t know it, I’ll call it “people like what other people like, because it’s popular”)

    Take your point about it being largely pointless though

    • It’s plain old ‘groupishness’ in psychology.

      I did save @flayman’s blushes by not revealing that he tactitly admitted completely mistargeting those who need to be reached.

      He said, regarding mental health stigma, “It’s not a middle-class problem. Middle class are just less inhibited to come forward. Common flawed view”

      Not many C2DEs on Twitter, or even know what it is, in my experience.


  3. Less inhibited as a group; however, individuals may feel inhibited. I was attacking Janet Street-Porter’s lame piece. There may be people who follow me who would feel encouraged by my vote of support. I don’t personally know most of the people who follow me and it would be foolish to guess their socio-political and economic backgrounds.

    • aha – a semantic rift. My followers aren’t necessarily my friends.

      I’m being followed by all sorts of wierdos and nutjobs. I only block bots, and I don’t monitor un-follows.

      While I know hardly any of my followers (a handful) I do know that I’ve not come across many manual or menial workers on Twitter in any conversations or hashtags. A majority are students, lawyers, engineers, IT geeks or other ABC1 types.

      Call that selction bias if you will – you could be right, but I know this: Facebook is much more the realm of the C2DEs, so I know them when I see them.

      Some demographics insight here:

  4. Your views are totally valid, although I dont subscribe to them. But why not just move on and ignore? Why ‘eat up twitter bandwidth’ with a smug and self satisfied insult? Seems like you are a little up your own arse to me, although I am mentally ill, so what do I know.

    • Don’t you get it? This has nothing to do with mental health.

      As for eating up twitter bandwidth, well that was a direct point, not a request to retweet some asinine and potentially counterproductive message.

      Flayman and I don’t see eye to eye on very much, but we’re at least arguing the points.

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