An Etiquette Guide to Pushing Your Cause on Twitter

The earthquake in Haiti has led to an outpouring of calls for help on Twitter and Facebook. But like previous humanitarian crises and calls for charitable giving, there are right ways and wrong ways to help.

The best, most effective way to help is to give money, as you may have already figured out. And social networks can be very effective in soliciting micro-donations; by early this morning, over $2 million had been donated to Red Cross relief efforts via text message, something that your friends undoubtedly promoted heavily ("Text "HAITI" to 90999 to donate $10 to @RedCross efforts in Haiti"). This is one of the best uses of social networks.

Somewhat less effective is broadcasting to everyone you know that you just texted HAITI to 90999 and donated $10 to @RedCross efforts in Haiti. Yes, you get to feel virtuous, and possibly remind people that they too should donate. But really, your friends will probably just roll their eyes at you and think you are being sanctimonious.

A much less effective use of social networks with regards to charitable giving is this whole canard of "raising awareness." Remember when people turned their avatars green to show their "support" for the anti-government demonstrators in Iran, or when they put breast cancer ribbons on their avatars? Yeah. Both are, in my opinion, empty gestures. Blog about it, Twitter about it, post links to articles about it, donate money—but please don't think that changing the color of your avatar or putting a pink ribbon on it actually helps. It was slightly different when people changed their location to Tehran, because the idea behind that was to make the Iranian government confused about which Twitter accounts were actually located in the country. But even so, leaving it up for months after didn't really achieve much.

Occupying the bottom of the effectiveness ladder are even emptier gestures like a "Twitter moment of silence" for the victims of the earthquake (how would that work, exactly?) or the craze that swept through Facebook last week, when women were posting the color of their bra as their Facebook status to supposedly, again, "raise awareness" about breast cancer.

Look, I understand that not everyone is going to go out and save the world single-handedly and that a lot of people are looking for ways to make a difference in their own, small way. But then donate money or start a campaign or do a half-marathon for lymphoma and spam all your Facebook friends for donations (strangely effective!). Don't think that by posting the color of your bra that you're changing the world.

(Or just buy your "I <3 Charity" T-shirt on Zazzle!)