Social media has had many benefits for our relationships with friends and family. When people travel, they can stay more connected than ever before with back home. We can stay in touch with students as they start their courses, and arrange events with a few clicks.
Perhaps most importantly, Facebook has become a great way to quickly raise money for good causes, especially around peoples' birthdays. This rapidly growing form of altruism is surely good news for all sorts of charities, but is it a safe way for you to donate?
This blog will look at Facebook giving, and try to assess whether you should really be organising fundraising via the world's biggest social media company.
In the past couple of years, birthday giving has emerged as one of the most popular features of the Facebook platform. As CNBC reported in August 2018, American users alone raised $300 million in such donations since the option was introduced in 2017.
This tool has been cleverly designed to prompt users to start fundraisers. A few weeks prior to your birthday, Facebook will send a notification asking whether you'd like to raise cash for a good cause, chosen from around 750,000 options.
Users can then specify their targets, and write invitations to friends, hoping to encourage their donations. It all sounds wholesome and innocent, and plenty of great courses have been rewarded, from cat shelters to Alzheimer's disease advocates.
On the face of it, this all seems fine. Well, aside from the minor annoyance of constantly receiving invitations to donate, or feedback from the charities you reward. But there may be some issues to keep in mind.
Firstly, is this the best way to donate? Facebook itself has come under fire for unethical practices and not taking user privacy seriously. So do you want to effectively provide Facebook with a PR boost?
Incidentally, if privacy is your major worry, be sure to check out this Hotspot Shield review for a reliable VPN.
However, there may also be serious security concerns. As non-profit consultant Amy Peyrot puts it, "We don’t know if we’re potentially exposing their financial data by asking someone to give it to Facebook."
Data has been shared freely between Facebook and data firms like Cambridge Analytica, and experts like Peyrot are starting to advise charities that their reputations could be at risk if they start to rely on Facebook windfalls.
Then there's the risk of charities being hacked. Infiltrators have set up fraudulent fundraisers, taken control of Facebook feeds, and Facebook itself has often been slow to provide support.
While birthday giving on Facebook is a lucrative revenue source for charities, and a neat way for individuals to donate, it's also bound up with the general issues surrounding the company. So how can you donate to charity safely and ethically?
We definitely don't want to discourage people from giving to good causes. The internet has revolutionised the way charities reach out to the public, and that's basically a very good thing. What we want is for giving to be safe and reliable, both for givers and receivers.
That said, there are definitely some tips to follow that should help you donate securely.
Firstly, it's essential to keep your financial details safe when making donations. Charity sites could easily conceal hackers or be hacked themselves, and vulnerable users run the risk of donating a lot more than a few pounds to their chosen cause.
By using a Virtual Private Network, you can encrypt the data you send and anonymize your IP address. That way, you'll be far less tempting for cyber attackers.
Check out our Hotspot Shield review for a reliable provider, or head to companies like ExpressVPN, Cyberghost, or NordVPN. And avoid free VPNs wherever possible.
There are millions of charities in the world, and not all of them are what they claim to be - including many listed on Facebook's directory. If you are setting up a fundraiser around your birthday, always check out the credentials of the recipient.
Feel free to ask them about their activities and ethics. And always check for contact details (which you should probably also supply to your invitees). If these details are vague or absent, move onto a different charity.
If you don't trust Facebook (and why would you?), there are alternatives around which offer the same kind of services, but take privacy much more seriously.
In the UK, the Charities Aid Foundation is a good bet. It offers a securely encrypted website (via HTTPS), and a donations portal which claims to be as secure as possible.
Donors can use PayPal as well, which is handy. Some VPNs interfere with credit card transactions, but that's not usually an issue with PayPal donations. In any case, because CAF is a security-focused portal, it should have factored in any conflicts with VPNs. But you can't take that for granted with less security-focused options.
Birthday giving is a great idea. We have to give Facebook credit for coming up with a way for people to donate which captures their imagination.
However, many people will want to avoid handing Facebook a PR coup and don't have any faith in the social media giant's ethics. If that sounds like you, there are alternatives. So don't give up on giving. Be creative and find secure solutions that don't boost the bottom line of unethical corporations.