The Alternatives

This series of posts explores the dangerous effects of poverty porn. In this final part, we look at what charities can be doing instead of creating campaigns that use poverty porn.

Despite the unwelcome recurrences of poverty porn, change in the way poverty is presented is happening. Awareness of the issue has increased, spurred on by the likes of Radi-Aid and their Rusty Radiator Award calling out sensationalised campaigns. They also award a Golden Radiator to fundraising films which inspire rather than guilt audiences, don’t dehumanise their subjects, and take context into consideration. On their website is a full list of characteristics of Golden Radiator-worthy campaigns that serves as a handy checklist to benchmark campaigns against.

Campaigns involving or appealing to young people should especially be more mindful of misrepresentation. Younger generations have grown up with more awareness of what life is like around the world due to being more connected online. Social media offers a very different view of the developing world compared to the one in mainstream media and hashtags such as #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShows have been actively dispelling stereotypes.

Charities should also take cultural-led approaches – e.g. creating campaigns and content where beneficiaries share their culture – as an effective way to connect audiences with issues of poverty without dehumanising beneficiaries. Using familiarity devices like music, food, TV shows, etc. as a way into a human experience you don’t and can’t know personally creates common ground, a levelling, that forms connections. It’s not about sugar-coating suffering; it’s about portraying people as human and not letting suffering be the single story told about people in poverty. It’s about creating donor relationships that are more than just transactional. In regarding everybody as humans rather than victims, people will see their similarities and be able to make a connection rather than just feel guilt, developing empathy rather than just sympathy. This approach also involves getting under the skin of issues more effectively and provide greater context, resulting in audiences being better informed of the complex issues surrounding poverty and perhaps even more inclined to engage in activism. Also remember to keep in mind who’s speaking - letting people tell their own stories will help to make an even greater connection.

Fundraising through guilt might be effective in the short-term, but the wider consequences of poverty porn makes using it hard to justify. Trying to help people by othering them isn’t helpful. Fuelling saviour complexes isn’t helpful. Presenting only part of a story, without context and without input from the people whose story it is, isn’t helpful. Instead, discuss the issues and address the causes of them, show progress that’s been made, and let people speak for themselves.