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Rage Giving: The Productive Side of Social Media Outrage

Angry internet denizens are collectively donating millions of dollars to nonprofits in the wake of Trump’s divisive policies. Plus: the biggest stories of the week in tech.

Ringer illustration

The year is 2018 and there is a lot to be mad about. The fury triggers are many and unending. It’s easy to jump from one anger-inciting incident to the next, the tower of rage growing and never dissipating. It’s easy to forget about the origins of this anger, because new reasons keep surfacing. For many, the constant anger is tied to the current political climate, which has given rise to a philanthropic trend: rage giving.

The first instance of rage giving is nearly untraceable, but it was spurred by the 2016 presidential election. Suddenly, with the election of Donald Trump, angry, terrified, mostly liberal Americans were motivated to donate money to organizations like the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the NAACP. Some donated in the names of conservative politicians or even their Republican relatives as a means to convey political conviction, and to contribute to worthy causes. But the act of rage giving also provided a release.

Rage giving has its roots in slacktivism, a way to communicate support for a social or political cause online without dedicating much actual time or thought or energy. It could come in the form of signing a petition and then sharing it on Facebook. It could be as simple as retweeting a call to action. But where slacktivism is almost entirely passive, rage giving does require action. Rage giving leads to constructive fundraising. Sending a check or a Venmo payment to an organization does far more than hitting the retweet or Like buttons. The Ringer’s own Shea Serrano is more than familiar with that method. Following Hurricane Harvey, he tweeted a call to action and ended up raising more than $134,000, all sent to him via Venmo. He didn’t start out angry, but says that there seemed to be a feeling of helplessness from the donors. “It’s like that thing where you get into a fight with your boyfriend or your girlfriend and you just want for things to be fixed instantly so you start trying to fast-forward everything,” Shea says. “I was feeling like, ‘Well shit. Everything is getting destroyed. How do I make all this better immediately.’ It was a super sucky feeling.” I asked him if he thinks the current rash of donations being sent to help border families stems from rage. “That’s a part of it, definitely. You see this horrible stuff happening—like the border families situation—and it’s just like, ‘Nah, fuck this. Fuck this situation and fuck anyone involved in it,’ and so you find a place that is fighting it and you give them some money.”

Slacktivism implies a laziness or ambivalence. It’s there right in its name: slacktivism. Rage giving is the opposite. Jessica Guynn recently wrote about the trend for USA Today. In the story, one woman ably explained why she is driven to rage give.

These small acts of armchair resistance are a release valve for pent-up feelings of helplessness, despair, and fury with the Trump administration, [Dahlia] Fisch says. Tapping a button to donate to a nonprofit on the front lines makes her feel, at least for a moment, more involved and more in control. “I find sadness debilitating. It doesn’t help anyone. But giving really does. It takes away that powerlessness,” says Fisch, a 34-year-old author of young adult novels from New York. “All I know is that every time I get mad, I do it again.”

Partisan politics are seemingly everywhere, and with that comes protest. One way that protest manifests itself is via donations to the powers trying to fight the Trump administration and its objectionable policies, including separating immigrant children from their parents—an issue which came to a fever pitch this week. Some people donated to the ACLU in the name of conservatives.

Since 2016, “Mike Pence” (but not actually Mike Pence) has been quite charitable to Planned Parenthood.

Trump may be providing temporal motivation that contributes to rage giving’s rise, but there are also some scientific reasons behind the trend. It is an example of “prosocial behavior,” which is when people exhibit behaviors that benefits others. It’s a fairly common term in the social psychology world, which basically amounts to the good that people do for others. Acts of unselfishness like cooperation and caregiving are examples. It’s an interesting topic for psychologists to study, because some think there can truly be no act that is entirely unselfish. A University of Notre Dame paper explored this, and other aspects of generosity, including the fact such actions might be short-lived.

While rage giving looks a lot like altruism—which is a form of prosocial behavior—altruism carries no personal benefit to the giver. In the age of Trump, the release that rage givers experience (confirmed by personal experience) is significantly self-beneficial.

Rage giving is likely to be short-lived; people are more likely to engage in long-term charity when they are affected by a specific event or illness. It’s rare to give long-term to strangers as opposed to family or friends. But donating is contagious. A 2004 Harvard study found that people are hugely influenced by the people around them when it comes to giving. “The individual’s participation decision, to give or not to give, is strongly influenced by the participation of peers,” the study says.

Even if it’s short term, the benefit of rage giving is already obvious: A Facebook fundraiser to help reunite families separated at the border raised nearly $19 million—a new record on the social media platform—in less than a week. Social media may force users into political echo chambers, but in this moment, the results are productive. It is very difficult for online anger to translate into positive real-life action—into voting, or protesting, or calling your representative in Congress, or even running for office. But it is becoming easier and easier to click and turn the rage into dollars … and then hopefully change.


Biggest bummer of the week: Facebook Messenger ads

People have plenty of complaints about Facebook, but for the most part, Messenger remains an eminently useful feature. This week, though, another reason to complain: Facebook is testing autoplay ads within the messaging service. It is a truly baffling idea in terms of user experience. A chat client is supposed to accomplish one thing: helping users talk to people. Users don’t want to play games or chat with bots in Messenger, and they certainly don’t want to watch a video ad in order to talk.

Prettiest launch party of the week: Instagram’s video event

Instagram threw a party to launch its IGTV feature, a new long-form video tool. Why can’t we just bring Vine back for new creative endeavors and continue with the myriad of video apps we already have? While it’s too early to tell how successful IGTV will be, the Instagram playground the platform created for its launch party (all of which I stalked thanks to our own Alyssa Bereznak’s tweets) was simply incredible and I would expect nothing less. Between the pink-hued food, a shiny dome perfect for picture-taking, and of course, a wall made of plants, Instagram’s event became a sort of meta-commentary on itself.

RIP: Uber and Google Maps

Google has cut Uber integration from Google Maps, and though I am a Lyft loyalist, I still can’t support this move. Google decided this week that users will no longer be able to book an Uber directly through the app when searching for directions, though it will still show up as an option along with public transit and Lyft. Hit the Uber button and you’ll be pushed to the company’s app. Maps isn’t some fun social app that users waste time with. It’s become a necessary tool. The workaround is very easy: Install Uber on your phone, allow Google Maps to redirect you to the app. It’s unclear why Google did this, or why Uber had this preferential treatment in the first place, but including multiple ride-sharing booking options within Maps would surely be an upgrade. Maybe we’ll hear about it next year at I/O?