Cyber Altruism in one of the largest Facebook Causes: Smiles for Cancer Prevention

Today, nearly any earth-walking citizen is an avid a Facebook member. Most members are all too familiar with the scores of “Applications” that adorn profile pages. It is no doubt they have likely spent hours denying countless requests to add these applications covering everything from “Zombie Attacks” to “Fun Walls” to “World Maps” that show off where you spent winter break. These simple-minded distractions serve no clear purpose other than catering to our unending quest to procrastinate and break the monotony of academic or office life.

Finally, an application launched by a Harvard Business School alumnus, Barak Rabinowitz (MBA ’07) is applying Facebook’s immense networking potential towards a popular and truly global philanthropic cause. The application, called “Contests”, is facilitating one of the fastest growing trends in philanthropy today: Cyber Altruism. In this case, “Contests” is hosting Smile for Cancer Prevention, a photo contest that allows any Facebook member to upload a smile to cheer up cancer victims. Smiles is one of the largest causes on Facebook, with over three million members. Matt Smith, the creator of Smiles, is one of many users of the Contests application who simply saw the opportunity to do some good. “I figured people race marathons and compete in so many ways for charity in the real world,” explains Smith, “Why not try and make a difference with an online contest?”
Smith set up Smile for Cancer Prevention within a few seconds and reached out to Amuso, the company behind “Contests” founded by Rabinowitz, to sponsor the campaign. According to Rabinowitz, Smith inspired Amuso with his simple yet powerful new way to use Contests: “We pledged $1 for every smile and used the same viral principles behind our application to rally users to the cause.”

Immediately after the contest went live, Smiles for Cancer Prevention poured in from all over the world and Amuso cut a check for $1000 to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. Word of the contest spread rapidly across the Facebook network and beyond when Smith posted a YouTube video to promote the contest. Today, over thirty videos have been posted about the contest, reaching over 40,000 people. Over 1,500 people have entered photos to the contest and 1,000 more have written comments to express their support.

One user, for example, expressed particular gratefulness: “My grandmother died of cancer three years ago. I just want anyone who has survived cancer, or who has lost a loved one to cancer, to know that they are not alone and it will get better. We just all need to stick together with a campaign like this, and we will find a cure!” The outpouring of support catapulted Smiles for Cancer Prevention to the very top of the Contests directory, edging out trivial contests such as “Hottest Girl on Facebook” and “Cutest Pets”, where users may even have the chance to win an iPod Touch or $500.

Although the world may be huge and intimidating, the internet holds the power to bring us together to make a real impact. When conflict and cynicism are so pervasive, it is truly inspiring to see a Facebook application like “Contests” rise from the clutter behind a worthy cause. Smile for Cancer Prevention and the Facebook “Contest” application have struck a universal chord, proving not only to serve as an incredible fundraiser, but also as a forum that brings together those with close connections to the terrifying disease of cancer.

Approximately two weeks remain for your smile to make a difference. Please visit Smiles for Cancer Prevention at // or link to it from Amuso