I’ve made a decision. From now on, if I need help, I’m heading straight to Twitter. I’ve tweeted pleas before. I once posted that I needed a job and the same afternoon got commissioned to write an article. But a few weeks ago, I discovered the true benefits of the virtual world.
It was election day and on my way back from a lunchtime trip to the launderette I discovered a huge BNP banner had been tied to the lamp post outside my flat. My immediate reaction was to pull it down. The trouble was, I’m short and it was higher than my tallest chair could reach. So I sent out a tweet. Could anyone help me tear down this monstrosity?
Within seconds my timeline was inundated with suggestions: from calling the council, hosing it down with water, to setting it alight. Minutes later, over 50 people had retweeted my predicament, but as I watched their avatars appear on my screen, I felt guilty that I wasn’t physically doing anything to get it down. I inspected the situation again. It was a definite scissors and ladder job. I had the snippers; but who had the steps?
I pondered the idea of knocking door-to-door until I found a ladder-owning resident, but it’s a busy main road where people are closely guarded and don’t stop and chat. Then I spotted my immediate neighbour who’s exceptionally tall. When I told him about the banner and the fact I needed help, he laughed and went indoors.
Which led me back to my computer. Over the next two hours I was immersed in a Twitterthon, tracking and responding to tweets. As word spread, the calibre of people interested in my plight gained momentum. As well as discovering it had been posted on Facebook walls, I was contacted by a local councillor and a member of another political party, who advised that I should deal with the issue legally. I tried, but my council’s environmental crime unit had me on hold for so long that I ran out of phone credit. The traditional methods were clearly not going to work.
Finally I got it. The tweet that saved the day. A message from a stranger to say assistance was on the way. Sure enough, two gentlemen promptly arrived with a ladder in tow. I tweeted a photo of them, and have since found out who they were, marking a satisfactory end to my tale.
It may sound like a small-scale success, but it’s evidence of a growing consciousness in virtual kindness – helping people we don’t know. After Claire Squires collapsed and died while running the London Marathon last month her Just Giving sponsorship page rose from £500 to nearly £1m – donated by over 79,000 donators who never knew her, but felt touched by her story. In the US, HopeMob exists with the sole purpose of building a community of generous strangers who donate to causes that help everyday people, like paying for their hospital bills. The organisation has over 285,000 Twitter followers who can vote to boost the chances of individual stories, helping them get coverage on the website until their financial target it met. It’s a ground-level form of philanthropy where all the money goes directly to the cause, so donors know exactly where their cash is going. Similarly, it’s common practice in the UK to hear of small businesses and bands asking for crowd funding where supporters and fans can contribute to help someone buy equipment, or release an album.
Virtual kindness can’t be measured but I’m sure there are an infinite number of people online each day, anonymously helping and assisting others. They may not get recognition, but the positive consequences of their actions really do make a difference. Of course there’s also the unfriendly virtual types. The ones who have left nasty comments on my blog and the fascists who felt obliged to tweet me and tell me to leave the country, but that’s another story …
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