As a swathe of fashion and other businesses get behind the fire cause through various means, including donations, diverting sales or profits, or taking part in charity markets, the practice of “bushfire shaming” has emerged on social media.
Pulsford is just one of many small businesses whose accounts have been targeted by people threatening to shame or boycott them if they don’t make a more public pronouncement about their support of the bushfires response. (On the flip side of the flip side, some cynics are dismissing donations from some businesses and wealthy individuals as mere PR stunts.)
A PR strategist for a major menswear brand shared a similar story how the brand’s social media channels have been targeted, despite making a $50,000 contribution earlier in the tragedy, in November.
While it’s easy for people to shame major retailers with tens or hundreds of employees – and there are many of these that have not made any public declarations of support – there are many more small businesses and sole traders for whom making a substantial financial contribution is just not viable.
One small business owner said that if she was to divert her takings from even one day’s trade that she would struggle to pay for basic living expenses. Another Melbourne-based creative said she felt a “weird pressure” to auction a piece to raise funds, even if it “feels insincere and showy to do it”. Both these women have donated hundreds of dollars privately, yet they feel the intensity of social media’s gaze, which at times seems to value being seen to be doing something more than the act of charity itself.
As in any crisis, social media has a tendency to bring out the best and worst in people. When we look back on the success of comedian Celeste Barber’s fundraising efforts, now well in excess of $35 million, there is no doubt the power of social media will help explain why this drive succeeded in drawing unprecedented international financial contributions from “regular” people.
Instagram, which wasn’t around after the Black Saturday fires of 2009, has given people a platform to grieve, to share, to plea and to rally. But it has also provided a portal for abuse and shaming, sometimes without justification. Calling out a business for posting tasteless or tone-deaf content, as one influencer who used a bikini selfie to promote a bushfire fundraiser found out, is one thing. Abusing a small business owner for not raiding their kitty, when the cupboard may already be quite bare, is not what charity is about.
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