From “We Are the World” to “thoughts and prayers”

This Tuesday marks the 35th anniversary of the momentous recording of the song “We Are the World” by United Support of Artists for Africa.

U.S.A. for Africa began in 1985 with the recording of “We Are the World” by 40 artists from around the globe. Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, the song’s credits included the likes of Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder and many more. The record raised $44 million upon its release on March 7, 1985. Since its release, it has raised more than $75 million to go toward the organization.

U.S.A. for Africa has raised over $100 million to go toward relief efforts in Africa with money going towards famine relief, homelessness, fighting climate change and more. Its efforts didn’t stop in 1985 and they continue to fight for these same causes in Africa and around the globe. 

On July 13 of the same year, the monumental, televised music festival Live Aid raised $127 million to go toward famine relief in Ethiopia. The festival had two venues, one at the John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia and the other in Wembley Stadium in London, and was the site of some of the most influential music performances of all time, including Queen’s famous performance that was recently portrayed in the film “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

These massive music events of days past made such an impact that raised awareness for world issues like poverty and famine and educated a massive amount of people. But methods of raising awareness have changed significantly since the turn of the century and the rise of social media.

Team Trees is one recent modern success where citizens and celebrities alike donated money to reach the goal of planting 20 million trees by 2020. Launched on Oct. 25 last year by YouTubers Jimmy Donaldson, better known as MrBeast, and Mark Rober, Team Trees encouraged the public to donate money to fight the global deforestation crisis. 

The organization met its goal in an impressively short amount of time, reaching $20 million worth of donations in mid-December. Internet personalities like Jeffree Star and Felix Kjellberg, better known as Pewdiepie, both made significant donations at over $50,000. Other notable people like Elon Musk and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki also made some of the largest donations.

The massive amount of people drawing attention to Team Trees through engagement on social media created a chain reaction that encouraged more people to donate. The people who donate to Team Trees are given the option to write a short comment next to their donation. Excluding the hateful or explicit comments, many thought of funny lines to include next to their donation, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk writing that his donation was “For Treebeard,” referencing a character from “The Lord of the Rings,” and even temporarily changing his Twitter name to “Treelon.”.

Team Trees led a hugely successful campaign that was praised by many online and actually went towards the fight against deforestation and climate change. The campaign was not televised to a great audience. There was not an elaborate music event, and there were not any prizes for those who donated.

Instead, they engaged social media audiences and let the campaign go from there. In fact, the vast majority of donations and online engagement surrounding Team Trees was from people under the age of 35.

The most recent world issue to take social media by storm has been the devastating bushfires in Australia. Australia is no stranger to the bushfires caused by their sweltering hot summers.

Over the last few months, particularly in New South Wales, the fires have destroyed many homes, towns and wildlife habitats. In New South Wales alone, 12.1 million acres have been burned, destroying the lives of dozens of humans and hundreds of millions of animals alike. 

Through social media, many celebrities and influencers have been donating towards relief efforts and encouraging their followers to do the same. Country singer Keith Urban and his wife actress Nicole Kidman donated $500,000 towards relief efforts. This was followed by Kidman posting a picture on Instagram, featuring a list of websites where her followers could donate as well. 

Australian comedian Celeste Barber recently made headlines for her massively successful campaign to raise money to go towards relief efforts that raised almost $35 million in just over 48 hours. Although the campaign has recently come into controversy concerning how and where the money will be distributed, the fact that a social media post could raise such an enormous amount of money in that time goes to show the effectiveness of the social media campaign.

The fires, and climate change as a whole, were a particularly hot topic at this year’s Golden Globe Awards. Russel Crowe could not attend the event to accept his reward due to his property being destroyed by the fires, which he directly attributed to climate change with other celebrities discussing the issue on stage as well.

However, there is something to be said about the hypocrisy of some celebrities particularly when speaking about climate change and sustainability. Celebrities such as Emma Thompson have since come under fire for claiming the “climate change activist” title but still flying on private jets, which has a massive carbon footprint compared to just flying on a commercial airplane.

This backlash against many celebrity activists resulted in a group of actors and musicians, including Mel B and Bob Geldof, signing a letter stating that they are also stuck in the “fossil-fuel economy” and that their lifestyle would “keep on causing climate and ecological harm” unless there is some change. 

Social media campaigns can be just as effective as charity music events of days past. Due to the accessibility of information and the massive voice given to social media influencers, more people are getting involved and learning about such crises. Although the “thoughts and prayers” tweets from celebrities often seem, and can be, disingenuous, their voice does make an impact and can be used to further educate.