1. Inhalt
  2. Navigation
  3. Weitere Inhalte
  4. Metanavigation
  5. Suche
  6. Choose from 30 Languages

Live Blogs

The Popsicle vendor and the risks of viral life-changing campaigns

Can an elderly street seller's life be changed for the better by a social media campaign? Maybe, but previous cases of viral waves of sympathy have not always ended well.

Fidencio Sanchez (pictured above), an 89-year-old a street vendor from Chicago, has just had his life completely transformed by a social media campaign.

The elderly man was struggling to push his cart of frozen paletas - a Mexican and Central American term for frozen ice pops - when he ran into Joel Cervantes Macias, who struck up a conversation with him.

Sanchez told Cervantes he was working because his wife, who usually sold the Popsicles, had fallen ill and that their daughter and only financial support had passed away, meaning he had to provide for their grandchildren.

The vendor's struggle moved Cervantes, who immediately bought $50 (44.8 euros) worth of paletas and, as he was leaving, took a picture of the old man, which he later shared on Facebook expressing his admiration for him.

Published on September 9, the post was shared over 500 times and, in a comment, Cervantes explained how he and his friend Joe Loera came up with the idea to start a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money for the 89-year-old.

The next day, Cervantes posted a link to his crowdfunding project, setting a goal of $3,000. But within 10 days, more than 17,000 people donated between $5 and $200, reaching an unexpected total of $384,290.

Fidencio Sanchez received the money yesterday in front of the press, saying he "thanked God and those who thought of coming together to help him and [his] wife."

Not so better tomorrows

Sanchez joins a long list of people whose lives had been dramatically changed by viral social media posts. But although he seems on track for a happy ending, past examples show this is not always the case.

In a story similar to Sanchez's, Abdul Halim al-Attar, a Syrian refugee living in Beirut, received $191,652 from an Indiegogo campaign that started in August 2015 after pictures of him selling pens to feed his children emerged online.

His story was also carried by the hashtag #BuyPens, which was launched by Gissur Simonarson, the founder of Conflict News, and local activist and journalist Carol Malouf.

Within a few months, Halim had moved into better accommodation, put his children back in school and opened three businesses. He was even employing other asylum seekers, with Malouf acting as legal guarantor for his business activities and thus holding some of the money as insurance.

But Halim's saga hit a major obstacle in April this year with the appearance of a troubling phone recording in which Malouf can allegedly be heard refusing to hand in the money she had control over, insulting al-Attar and even threatening to have him put in prison or deported.

Simultaneously, Simonarson revealed another problem when he explained that part of the money had not reached Halim yet because it was stored on Paypal, which is not allowed to operate in Lebanon.

Malouf tweeted in response to the growing concerns from some donors, saying Halim had spent all of the money that had reached him.

Since then, Simonarson says the Paypal money has reached Halim, but he does not know what became of his relationship with Carol Malouf.

Life-threatening change?

Rapid exposure of a person's life on social networks can also bring unwanted attention from dangerous sources and lead to change for worse, even when a campaign is guided by the tenderest of intentions.

This is what Murtaza Ahmadi's family found out when they shared pictures of him wearing a plastic bag cut out to look like a football jersey with Lionel Messi's name written in the back.

The images depicted him as he played with a volley ball in their small village of Jaghori, Afghanistan. The five-year-old's pictures were shared in mid-January 2016 and his story moved many users, who pushed for the Argentine footballer to get involved.

Messi, a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nation's Children's Fund (UNICEF) since 2010, responded in late February, sending the boy two signed jerseys and a ball through the UN agency.

But their time in the limelight also brought Ahmadi's family real trouble: Only two months later, Murtaza’s father, Muhammad Arif Ahmadi, told the media he and his family had had to flee to neighboring Paskistan after receiving threats from extremist groups in the region.

"I received 20-30 unknown calls in Afghanistan asking why I'm teaching my kid about football and not teaching him about the Quran," he told American broadcaster CNN.

Relatively happy endings for some

The story of Osama Abdul Mohsen, a Syrian refugee, made headlines across Europe in September 2015 with a video showing a Hungarian camerawoman kicking and seemingly tripping him and his son, as well as other refugees, as they ran across a field near the border between Hungary and Serbia.

The images were widely reported on and caused outrage online, leading to her employer, Hungarian channel NTV1, to terminate her contract. The channel also issued a statement calling her behavior "unacceptable," and she has since been indicted by a Hungarian court for "breaching the peace."

But the video also brought Mohsen much sympathy, even indirectly landing him a job. When he heard about his story, Miguel Angel Galan, the president of Spain's national academy for football coaches (CENAFE), learned that Mohsen was a coach before he fled Syria.

Galan then invited him and two of his sons to come to Spain, where Mohsen could resume his coaching career. In a tweet shortly after his arrival he called the Syrian man "an example of struggle."

CENAFE have since been providing for Mohsen and his sons, finding them an apartment in a suburb of Madrid as a well as monthly salary of 1,200 euros, according to a report by the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

But even this is not a completely happy ending: Mohsen's contract is set to expire in two months, according to the Telegraph's report - though Galan has said CENAFE would not simply give up on him.

Moreover, a year after Mohsen and his sons arrived in Spain, his wife and their two other children are still in Turkey after authorities denied their visa requests.

DW recommends