“I think these videos can tell a story about how we should help the deserving poor,” said Yale University professor Michael Krause, a social psychologist who specializes in inequality. “But in reality all people are worthy, and individual acts of charity are not the solution to poverty.” “Deserving the poor” is an ancient concept codified in Elizabethan England’s poor law to distinguish between what should be The poor who “blame” their situation and those who are not entitled to help as a result. TikTokkers rewarding helpful homeless people arguably reinforce the idea that some people are more deserving of benefits than others.
Krause is haunted by these TikToks. “They made me feel very inhumane. Did the people in the video agree to be used in this way? Can they agree to the money?” he asked. “Would they be less sympathetic if they would say no? I think the answers to these questions are troubling.”
However, other scholars have pointed out that the videos may have a positive effect on viewers. Pat Barclay is an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Guelph who studies “competitive altruism” and how it can be used to foster generosity. Barclays said a TikTok like Dereniowski’s can show kids that “helping others is worth it” and that it’s “safe” to do so. He added that the videos could encourage viewers to donate to strangers in need.
“If we see someone helpful, and then it’s recognized, then we’re more likely to help in return,” he said. “This raises the bar of expectations of us: if other people are so helpful, we can’t sit back and be selfish and grumpy – we look petty by comparison. So this makes the observers need to ‘raise theirs’ game level’.”
Arguably, though, the influencers themselves benefit the most from these videos — earning fame and fortune for their deeds. Deborah Small is a Wharton psychology professor who studies philanthropy, ethics, and prosocial behavior. Small examines the way we judge the motives of others for charitable giving—ultimately, we’re skeptical of people who seem selfish. However, she noted that when people donate online and tell others on social media, “it’s good for charity” because it promotes other donations.
“We try to encourage people to tell others about their generosity, and people are reluctant to do it because it seems brag and untrue,” Small said. “Is it right or wrong to share your charity? If you think about what that means in terms of motivation, it seems wrong – but if you think about it in terms of the impact it can have, it seems morally right practice.”
Well, videos like Dereniowski can arguably have a positive impact, inspiring viewers to help those in need. From a purely consequentialist perspective, regardless of the influencer’s motives (and the complex questions about philanthropy that the encounter raises), the lives of those who receive the money change.However, as these videos became more popular — in late May, Dereniowski was interviewed on the chat show Piers Morgan Uncensored– We should be wary of their potential impact. At worst, such videos could lead viewers to “test” homeless people before giving them money, cementing age-old notions about deserving poor people. At their best, they advocate individual acts of philanthropy rather than larger structural and political changes.