Charity TikTok videos put an unpleasant spin on morale

“I think these videos can create narratives about how we should help the deserving poor,” says Yale professor Michael Kraus, a social psychologist specializing in the study of inequality. “But in fact, everyone is deserving, and individual charities are not a solution to poverty.” The “deserving poor” is an archaic term, codified in England’s Elizabethan poverty laws, designed to distinguish between people in poverty who were to “blame” for their situation and those who were not, and therefore entitled to help. TikTokkers, which rewards helpful homeless people, undoubtedly entrenches the idea that some people are more worthy of welfare than others.

Kraus is worried about these TikToks. “They seem deeply dehumanizing to me. Do the people in the videos consent to be used in this way? For that amount of money can they agree ?, ”he asks. “If they had said no, would they then be less deserving of compassion? I find the answers to these questions worrying.”

Still, other academics note that these videos can have a positive effect on the viewer. Pat Barclay is an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Guelph who studies “competitive altruism” and the ways it can be used to promote generosity. Barclay says that TikToks, like Dereniowskis, can show children that “it pays to help others”, and it is also “safe” to do so. He adds that these videos could encourage viewers to give to strangers in need.

“If we see someone being helpful and then being recognized for it, then we are more likely to be helpful again,” he says. “This raises the standard of what is expected of us: We can not just sit back and be selfish villains if others are so helpful – we look stingy in comparison. So this means that observers will have to” upgrade their game.”

But it is certain that influencers themselves benefit most from these videos – they earn fame and fortune for their deeds. Deborah Small is a psychology professor at Wharton who studies charity, morality and prosocial behavior. Small has researched the ways in which we judge the motives of others for the benefit of the benefit – ultimately we are cynical towards people with seemingly selfish motives. However, she notes when people donate money online and tell others about it on social media, “it’s good for charity” as it promotes other donations.

“We try to encourage people to tell other people about their generous deeds when people are reluctant to do so because it seems boastful and spurious,” Small says. “Is it right or wrong to share your charity? If you think about what it means in relation to your motive, it seems wrong – but if you think about it in terms of the impact it can have, it seems like the moral right things to do. “

Videos like Dereniowskis can undoubtedly have a positive impact and inspire viewers to give them a try. From a purely consequentialist point of view, those who receive the money have had their lives changed regardless of the motives of an influencer (and the complex issues of charity that the meeting raises). But as these videos become even more popular – in late May, Dereniowski was interviewed on the chat show Piers Morgan uncensored– We should be wary of their potential impact. At worst, such videos can cause viewers to “test” the homeless before offering them money, and anchor archaic ideas about the deserving poor. At their best, they promote individual charitable actions over major structural and political changes.