WaterForLife and #firstworldproblems

In early October, a hubbub was created online when a video of impoverished Haitians reading tweets tagged #firstworldproblems was released by charity WaterforLife. The video, created by marketing firm DDB, attempts to garner donations by pointing out the problems inherent with #firstworldproblems trend. Critics and embarrassed privileged teens and young adults everywhere began to lambaste the campaign for missing the point of the tag, (that they know they’re whining about inconsequential things). If it’s true that there is no such thing as bad publicity however, DDB seems to have accomplished it’s goal. A relatively small and unknown charity has now been written about extensively in newspapers around the world, and their video has received millions of views on Youtube. Criticisms of the campaign in ways also seem to enhance the message: the lives of these individuals are so privileged that they have time to whine about how a water charity is being mean to them.

One of the most thoughtful articles I read about the whole debacle was the article in The Guardian, which talked not just about the video and the backlash, but about the more subtle problems with the trend. Namely, the self-referential tag creates an inside joke that necessarily excludes the unprivileged in the developed and developing world. Further, an us-and-them mentality is created by trends which delineate the world so severely and takes as a given that the developing world has some problems, the developed world has others, and never the twain shall meet.

While I understand the feeling that WaterforLife missed the joke, the video still managed to use social media as a platform and illustration of why they’re mission is so important, which I found exciting and fresh. I also think critical discussions of the problems with exclusionary trends predicated on privilege, such as #firstworldproblems, will be increasingly important in our global world, especially as social media brings us closer than ever.


2 responses to “WaterForLife and #firstworldproblems

  • janinewilkin

    Thank you for presenting both this article and video. I agree with you in the sense that critical discussions pertaining to exclusive trends are necessary. While I can see the power this campaign holds, I was engaged by Emer O’Toole’s work for the Guardian as well. She cites the scripted nature of the dialogue as being “deeply unsatisfying.” We never learn how the Haitian individuals would respond to the message (and in the article we learn that the meaning of the twitter hashtag wasn’t really explained to them). Ultimately I think the campaign could be more successful if the campaign facilitated more of a conversation.

    So, if we catch ourselves complaining about silly little things and jokily say ‘first world problems’, that betrays an inability to see that people from poor countries are “as fully complex and as keen on technology and pleasure as we are.”

  • elizabethcauchois

    I agree with both your post and Janine’s comment about how it was not a consideration how the haitians were effected by this tactic, and how they viewed the project, and whether it belittles them. It was a good idea in theory to show the disparity between the two countries, but only served to reinforce the mindsets so many in the International Development field have been trying so hard to get out of.

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