An Introduction to Internet Charity and Cyber Begging: Creative Altruism or Destructive Selfishness?

Chances are you’ve seen it online, it’s something that’s become more socially acceptable yet is seldom fact-checked or scrutinized as thoroughly as it should be: cyber begging or Internet panhandling. Over the last decade, websites like Begslist.com have cornered the market for free cyber begging platforms.

As per usual, users should be aware of the fact that Begslist.com is just another content management system offering a “free service” that actually benefits from adding the personal information of its users to a database. Plus, Begslist only has to put in minimal effort as users upload their own stories to promote, which essentially becomes word-of-mouth advertising and translates to organic Begslist shares within the social networks of thousands of motivated (needy) individuals.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just important to realize that any information a person puts on the Internet will be accessible in the future, so, even though it’s currently legal and promoters say there’s little to no stigma in begging for money on the Internet now – who knows if it’ll stay that way.

What is Cyber Begging?

Cyber begging, or Internet begging, is basically the same as traditional begging. It’s when a person asks a stranger – over the Internet – for money in order to help meet the financial cost of anything from basic needs (like food, healthcare and shelter) to optional expenses. Begging online offers a certain amount of anonymity and a larger audience than begging on the streets ever could.

It’s important to note that there is a huge difference between someone creating a legitimate fundraiser (Internet charity) and someone who creates multiple fundraisers across several platforms on a regular basis in order to support themselves financially while quite possibly skirting tax law in the process.

Websites like Patreon that are used for artists who want to fund their work are legitimate so long as the person doing it is reputable, credible and follows through on their content creation promises; the same is true of crowdfunding on sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe. It’s simple: just follow the rules and Internet charity can help anyone accomplish a specific goal.

Nonetheless, sometimes people do lie and exaggerate by omitting or obfuscating the truth to fit a certain narrative in order to deliberately mislead others for their own personal gain. This is nothing new. What is new is their ability to blend in with those who are in actual need and leach funding away from the less fortunate using the same digital platforms; thereby defrauding the entire act of Internet charity in the process.

To be very clear here: cyber begging (Internet charity) is 100% legal, if someone is facing legitimate financial trouble and is in need of assistance they have every right to reach out and ask for help; this is completely ethical and there is no problem with it. Furthermore, I’d like to point out the truth to these points made under the ‘Legal Considerations’ section of TechSpirited’s pro-cyber begging article, “Does Cyber Begging Really Work?”:

  • “This is a type of digital charity, and according to reports, it certainly works and is completely legal.
  • What is unethical is to fake sob stories and lie about your situation to get money.
  • Cyber begging is a concept solely for people who are in dire need. There have been cases when people have faked illnesses or bad debts to receive donations. If you ever get caught, you may be punished nevertheless; you will also be responsible for donors to lose faith in cyber begging and in helping people out” (TechSpirited 2018).

This blog post is about establishing the criteria for what constitutes “unethical” cyber begging, or “fake sob stories,” which is the kind of deception that comes from those who tend to fabricate, or exaggerate, the details of their situation to get money.

Crowdfunding Platforms like KickStarter

One thing that ought to be reconsidered, and changed, regarding crowdfunding would have to be KickStarter’s idea of how: people won’t defraud the general public out of money because their reputations are on the line. This obviously does not take into account people who are delusional and truly believe that what they say or do is right; when their behavior could be just as easily be considered unethical or dishonest.

According to KickStarter’s “Rules”:

  • “Projects must create something to share with others.
  • Projects must be honest and clearly presented.
  • Projects can’t fundraise for charity.
  • Projects can’t offer equity.
  • Projects can’t involve prohibited items.
  • These rules don’t cover every possible use of Kickstarter, but they explain our purpose and perspective” (Kickstarter 2018).

Future blog articles will be focused on Kickstarter’s rule that, “Projects must be honest and clearly presented,” which states that:

“Our community is built on trust and communication. Projects can’t mislead people or misrepresent facts, and creators should be candid about what they plan to accomplish. When a project involves manufacturing and distributing something complex, like a gadget, we require projects to show backers a prototype of what they’re making, and we prohibit photorealistic renderings” (Kickstarter 2018.)

While this seems fair and true enough on the surface, it certainly doesn’t take into account if the people raising the money are delusional and adhere to a false belief system that they believe is right. That, however, is a topic for another blog article.

Final Notes and Further Reading:

In The Guardian article, “Cyber Begging,” writer Clint Witchalls details what the conventional understanding of cyber begging was in 2003:

“Cyber-beggars, e-panhandlers, call them what you will, these are the people who are too ashamed to busk for a facelift, so they sign up for HTML 101 and open a PayPal account. The woman who allegedly started the craze is a 30-year-old, ex-TV executive, Karyn Bosnak. Thanks to generous donators, Bosnak has now paid off her $20,000 credit card debt – mainly owed to Prada, Gucci and Bergdorf. Aside from her accessories habit, Bosnak also has a ‘horrible addiction’ to lipgloss. The message on her website read: ‘Please help me pay my debt. I am nice. I am cheery. I didn’t hurt anyone by spending too much money. I was actually helping out the economy. If you help me, then someday someone might help you when you need it’” (Witchall 2003).

Witchall goes on to point out that Bosnak wrote a book, “about her experience of fleecing saps like you” (Witchall 2003). So be wary, there are still many disingenuous people out there who are unscrupulous enough to lie to strangers and have no problem with damaging their own reputations for unethical financial gain.

If you are currently in need of financial assistance, and have nowhere else to turn to other than cyber begging, then check out these resources to help you organize your efforts and keep things ethical, legal:

The Cracked article, “5 Things No One Tells You About Panhandling Online,” by Adam Tod Brown has five solid tips: “1) Know What To Do If People Give You Extra Money, 2) Get Creative If You Have Nothing To Give Away, 3) Ask Your Friends To Help, 4) Learn How to Write Good, 5) Decide How Much Confidence You Have In Yourself” (Tod Brown 2016).

According to the MoneyPantry article, “Cyberbegging: 17 Sites that Get Strangers to Give You Money for Anything,” says that, “There are tons of ways to get free money. Even the government has programs where they give you free cash. But when all else fails, the internet can help” (MoneyPantry 2017).

What do you think about the this video “How to Cyber-Beg?” from 2011?:

Be sure to like, subscribe and check back tomorrow for a new blog article!


References:

Fessler, Pam. “Cyberbegging Takes Panhandling Online.” NPR: December 09, 2009. Website: https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=121211164

Kickstarter. “Our Rules.” Kickstarter: April 11, 2018. Website: https://www.kickstarter.com/rules?ref=global-footer

MoneyPantry. “Cyberbegging: 17 Sites that Get Strangers to Give You Money for Anything.” MoneyPantry.com: October 09, 2017. Website: https://moneypantry.com/money-from-strangers/

TechSpirited. “Does Cyber Begging Really Work?” Techspirited.com: April 11, 2018. Website: https://techspirited.com/does-cyber-begging-really-work

Tod Brown, Adam. “5 Things No One Tells You About Panhandling Online.” Cracked: August 06, 2016. Website: http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-things-i-learned-asking-strangers-money-online/

Witchalls, Clint. “Cyber Begging: From frivolous debtors to worthy causes, the web is full of people after the money in your pocket.” The Guardian: March 27, 2003. Website: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2003/mar/27/internet.onlinesupplement

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Author: Reality Challenged

I have created this blog to record, analyze, investigate and report on the ideas, events, and people that would otherwise mislead you and waste your time.

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