Tech ethics | Tech for good

The rise of Robin Hood tech

Charities and general do-gooders alike, it’s time to start stealing. Big brands steal your messaging and your campaign ideas to make rich people richer. So it's time to avenge yourselves - start stealing tech in the name of good.

By Reason Digital · April 1, 2015

Robin Hood (if you were deprived of his legend or at the very least the Disney movie) stole from the rich and gave to the poor. He was a hero, and also a thief, but we’ll ignore that bit for now, as he’s one of the good guys.

A big issue we have, here at Reason Digital, is that someone is stealing from charities all the time. Yep, we see massive companies selling us the idea of confidence, happiness, unity or a life-changing experience – when, most of the time, they are selling you cereal or soap.

Just look at Dove’s #OneBeautifulThought campaign that was recently launched. It speaks volumes when it comes to body image, self-belief and confidence. But this is a charitable message, and while it’s brilliantly executed, the main call to action is to buy Dove products rather than directly support a really important cause.

And did you see the sea of blue avatars on your Twitter timeline on Monday? If you did, it’s not because of the latest charity campaign, as you’d expect it to be. It’s in support of Tidal, the latest music streaming service acquired by Jay Z. Some of music’s biggest names turned their avatar to blue (it’s more of a turquoise if we’re being pedantic) to spread the word. And there’s even a trending hashtag – #TIDALforALL. Jay Z has got Madge and Kanye supporting him – but does your cause?

Tweet from Jay Z

So, it would seem right to think that the charity sector needs its own Robin Hood. We see charity messaging and methods often manipulated for lesser purposes, but there is definitely a reverse to this model. Robin Hood Tech exists – the way to steal existing technology and platforms and use it for the greater good. And we see ourselves as its merry men, and women.

So here are some great examples of how existing technology has been stolen (or, perhaps less dramatically, adapted) and used for good.

Swipe right to end sex trafficking

2014 was definitely the year of Tinder in the UK. People were able to swipe left, or swipe right to find a potential love match based on local proximity. Dating has never been so convenient.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland hijacked the dating app, so that, instead of sexy selfies, people came across a number of profiles featuring women with cuts and bruises in a campaign against sex trafficking.

The fake profiles began with conventional photographs of the women. But as users swipe to see more photos, they see images of the abuse that victims of sex trafficking often endure, along with messaging such as: “Your options are left or right. Sex trafficking victims have no options. You have the option to help end it now.”

A lonely brick

It certainly seems like Tinder is the one to hijack at the moment. Not even by humans, but bricks too.

Shelter launched their ‘A lonely brick’ campaign in March 2015, creating a profile for a lonely brick looking for love.

The premise behind it was to help the brick cement (we loved the puns) a new relationship, by getting people to call on politicians to build more affordable homes.

Shelter also used a Tumblr to host conversations, a blog explaining the issues behind the campaign, and a bespoke teaser site – where people could pledge to help the brick find love.

And, as you can see, it was really well-received.

conversation on tinder

A photo a day

YouTube is a relatively easy way to change people’s way of thinking and get their attention. Whether it’s mass organised, like YouTube’s own #DearMe campaign, in the name of International Women’s Day, or something a little more personal.

‘A second a day’ or even ‘a photo a day’ videos are popular on YouTube – they provide a short insight into a person’s life.

This haunting abuse video from anti-domestic violence organisation, Sigurna kuća, is a great example, particularly as we didn’t know they were behind it at the time.

We wonder who’ll be first to turn the ‘Draw My Life’ video concept on its head. Or whether charities will be taking up daily vlogging any time soon. It’s the beginning of VEDA today – Vlog Every Day in April – that might be the time to start.

Gay dating apps warn about HIV

If you’re signed up to a dating site or app, you can expect ‘match’ notifications, or even private messages from other uses, but what about a message reminding you about the importance of HIV testing?

Hornet and Jack’d are two gay dating apps that have taken their popularity and used it to really reach people and raise awareness in this way.

Hornet teamed with a local non-profit in the Philippines to send messages to 94,000 users about testing services, with links for online registration. Over 4,300 men responded, and 539 were HIV-positive. Jack’d ran a similar campaign in Taiwan, where almost 30,000, of their approximate 82,000 users clicked through to the HIV message.

Digital wallets

You may have seen our latest post about why we think charities should take advantage of digital wallets. In a time where our card companies are making it ever easier for us to buy small items like lattes or a Gregg’s pasty, we think they could be doing the same for donations.

Cancer Research UK are already doing it, with contactless payment and interactive screens in the shop windows of its Brighton, Guildford, Kensington and Marylebone stores.

This seems like the way forward to us, especially when research has found that people are likely to part with 30% more money when using contactless cards, due to the ease of use. That could be a big fundraising boost.

Facebook hijacks itself?

It’s not exactly a theft as such, but are existing platforms such as Facebook, starting to take responsibility for important issues? A lesson learned instead?

As of the third quarter of 2014, Facebook had 1.35 billion monthly active users. If Facebook were a country of its own it would be the size of China.

Facebook has become a huge community for many people, so it was interesting to see the announcement of its suicide prevention support tool. Users can now report posts to Facebook that seem to show someone suffering from suicidal thoughts.

A third party will review reported posts, then decide whether to reach out to the user with advice and support. This is done in partnership with ForefrontNow Matters Now, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and amongst others.

facebook suicide prevention tool screenshots

It reminds us of Radar, the app developed by Samaritans in 2014. The Twitter app, which sent an alert to users when people they follow posted messages that suggest suicidal thoughts, closed after a week amidst complaints of privacy, but we’re interested to see how Facebook’s alternative will work. It’s interesting to see such a popular platform take some responsibility, particularly when social media is responsible for so many emotions (remember Facebook’s guinea pig test on 689,003 users?)

Facebook’s reporting tool seems to get used, with user has been detained and placed under psychiatric observation when he decided to fake a suicide and test the tool for himself.

Your turn?

So, go out into your proverbial Sherwood Forest and see what you can do with tech. Beg, borrow or steal. Or simply take back what’s yours. Take back your messaging, take back your campaigns, and take control of tech.