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How Live Below the Line crossed a line

Posted on May 2, 2013 by Gabriella Rackoff

When this Toronto Star article about the Live Below the Line Challenge showed up in my Facebook news feed, my first instinct was to write about it here. Almost immediately the cringe-worthiness made me want to back out. But a little encouragement from my coworkers and here I am.

First, an overview. To avoid my own bias, the below is pasted directly from the Live Below the Line website .

The challenge?
Spend 5 days feeding yourself with $1.75 a day – the Canadian equivalent of the extreme poverty line.

The reason?
To give a glimpse into the lives of 1.4 billion people who have no choice but to live below the line every day – and who have to make $1.75 cover a lot more than food.

Live Below the Line is a campaign that’s changing the way people think about poverty – and making a huge difference – by challenging everyday people to live on the equivalent of the extreme poverty line for 5 days.

Social media has given way to a new breed of activism centered on the indicators that one is committed to a particular issue. Examples include making your profile picture a certain colour, using a certain hashtag and posting a video like the infamous Kony 2012 on your timeline. I believe the official term is slacktivism .

As we know, successful social media campaigns can sometimes be strong on sharablility without generating the expected sales. A silly campaign with lots of views, shares and tweets but little substance is fine if you’re trying to sell bags of Cheez Doodles, not so much if we’re talking about helping people who are living in situations more horrific than any of us can imagine.

Erica Kim, a spokesperson for the campaign, told the Star that “there are several recipes available for meals that are extremely inexpensive. Most include lots of vegetables and cheap pasta. Getting creative on a budget…is the best way to go during the challenge.”

Either she’s implying that the poorest people in the world just need a little creativity in the kitchen to make their dollars stretch, or this is a meaningless game designed to give people that doing-good-part-of-something-big-with-Ben-Affleck sort of feeling. I really, really hope it’s the latter.

Another great example of this kind of thing is the 30 Hour Famine. Remember that one? This was pre-social media, but I just checked and it’s still around . The premise involves a bunch of high school kids holed up in the gymnasium for 30 hours without food. Their website announces a photo contest urging you to “share your favourite famine moment!”

I get that the point is to “create awareness” but we’re talking about incredibly complex socioeconomic problems. Many of the people trying to survive on $1.75 a day could be living under oppressive governmental regimes and in the midst of bloody civil wars. They could be orphans who were born with AIDS.

To dumb down these global issues to this extent under the guise of creating awareness is in incredibly poor taste. The below ad from Unicef Sweden is making its own comment on the slacktivism trend.

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Source: http://www.buzzfeed.com/copyranter/likes-dont-save-lives

Live Below the Line has all the makings of a successful social media campaign. Celebrity? Check. A catchy hashtag? Check. Alliteration? Check. Making participants feel like they’re part of something? Check.

But is the Live Below the Line campaign helping people living in desperate poverty, or is it just helping Ben Affleck?

Gabriella is a Creative Director at 88 Creative. Follow her on Twitter @gabriellainga .

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