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Chasing Facebook

June 23, 2010

chase.jpegIs it better for a grant-making organization to dole out funds to arts organizations as a result of a closed-door decision-making process in which a panel of "experts" decides which organizations are most worth supporting or to let the public decide by leveraging the power of a popular social networking tool?

The latter sounds way less mysterious and more democratic. So why am I feeling so ambivalent about Chase Bank's use of Facebook to help its community giving department distribute charitable donations?

A couple of days ago, I received a mass email from Old First Concerts, a presenter of classical and experimental chamber music recitals in San Francisco. The email said:

Please Vote For Old First Concerts
Chase Community Giving Supports Non-Profits

Please Vote Today: Voting Ends July 12, 2010
Our Non-Profit Name: Old First Center For the Arts

Chase Community Giving is once again donating $5 million to 200 worthy non-profit organizations. The top non-profit will receive $250,000, the next 4, $100,000 and 195 non-profits will get grants of $20,000. The winners will be selected by people like you voting on Facebook for the organizations you feel are most worthy.

Old First Concerts receives its support from government and foundation grants, as well as individual contributions, along with the 50% of our operating revenue that comes from ticket sales. As a result of the economic downturn, many foundations and government agencies have had to reduce the amount of support they offer. Receiving one of the Chase Community Giving grants would provide us with significant funding to continue our mission. Here's how you can help:

• Vote for us (by July 12) on Facebook: Click here to vote
• Forward this email to others
• Encourage your Facebook friends to vote for us (e.g., wall postings)
Thank you for your ongoing support of emerging musicians and affordable concerts in San Francisco.

The money on offer is significant and I love the work that Old First Concerts does. So I dutifully followed the link and tried to vote. But Facebook wouldn't allow me to cast my vote without making all my personal information available to Chase, which I wasn't keen on allowing as I don't want the financial institution to start badgering me with offers etc. There seemed to be no way around this demand, so I decided not to vote after all.

Besides the invasion of privacy issue, the idea of organizations winning money as a result of a popularity contest also sticks in the craw a bit. Old First concerts attracts a niche audience of mostly older people. I'd be surprised if a great many of them even use Facebook (according to Katht Barr, the director of the organization, even some of the artists she programs have trouble dealing with the concept of email, let alone Facebook.)

Finally, I have to wonder just how transparent the system is. How do we really know that the votes are being amassed correctly via the technology and that Chase will base its decision solely on the number rather than on other factors that aren't being shared with the public. Is the vote the only means of deciding? Or is it just one factor that Chase Community is considering alongside a more conventional panel-led, application form-driven process? The email message certainly doesn't go into this detail.

"The Power of Giving Is In Your Hands," says the slogan on the Chase Community Giving Facebook page. Is it really though? Frankly, I'd be very surprised if the grant-giver were to give away a quarter of a million dollars based just on a count of raised hands on Facebook.


  • I found this account very interesting. I received similar mail and wrote about it on both my
    Rehearsal Studio
    sites. I also "did the click" to cast my vote; but I was not prompted for any personal information. Indeed, it was because I found the site to be non-intrusive that I made the decision to spread the word through my own channels.

    So your piece has set me to hypothesizing. (Yes, you are right, just about everything sets me to hypothesizing!) I do not know if you have a Facebook presence, but I do not. What is interesting, however, is that I occasionally get "invitation to friend" mail; and the message includes a list of other people I might want to "friend," should I decide register! That list seems to indicate that
    Facebook knows a lot about me
    , even without my having registered! Thus, I would not be too quick to lay the blame on Chase; it may be Facebook doing the prying!

    By Blogger Stephen Smoliar, At June 23, 2010 at 9:27 AM  

  • Thanks, Chloe.

    By Blogger Lisa Hirsch, At June 23, 2010 at 9:48 AM  

  • Stephen - if you're getting "why don't you join" email, it's because someone who has a Facebook account sent it. The list of potential "friends" is determined algorithmically, very likely, from "friends" of the people who suggested you.

    By Blogger Lisa Hirsch, At June 23, 2010 at 9:49 AM  

  • Lisa, I can refute your second sentence with hard data. There were "potential friends" whose connections to the member making the request were extremely remote. (Needless to say, I would prefer not to disclose those data, since that would invade the privacy of the people involved.) More likely is that Facebook has constructed a "virtual profile" of me, based on the profile I would have if I were a member and constructed from publicly available material I am less concerned that the material is public and more worried that Facebook has decided to aggregate it, particularly without my having any say in the matter. (I suppose you could say that my position is similar to that of the relationship between newspapers and Google News.)

    By Blogger Stephen Smoliar, At June 23, 2010 at 10:24 AM  

  • Ah, determined algorithmically in some other way, then. My experience has been that the suggested friends aren't that remote, but presumably that's because I have a Facebook account, so Facebook knows who my "friends" are.

    By Blogger Lisa Hirsch, At June 23, 2010 at 10:27 AM  

  • I'm the page administrator for a non-profit. Our charity (Carolina Tiger Rescue) is involved in the Chase Giveaway contest this time, we also participated in the last one running Dec-Jan.

    I have not received any communication from Chase since I've been a member the last 6 months. The information you give away to Chase is no more than what you give away on Facebook to any application you use. Do you need to be responsible for your own personal info? Absolutely. Do you have a right to be suspicious of how your info might get used? Yes.

    Is it worth falling into a pool of over 100 million Facebook users and/or the 2.5 million Chase users in order to catch up with old friends, keep up with current ones, support your favorite charities, and stay connected with the world? I decided yes.

    I find some security in the anonymity- my info is a pretty small fish in the ocean. I think Chase is truly looking to do something good here, and why shouldn't they use the power of the latest web movement to power it?

    And to help out our wildcats by potentially winning them a $20K donation? maybe I'll regret it, but I'll take the risk

    By Anonymous Amanda, At July 11, 2010 at 10:51 AM  

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