Tiktokers talking to camera with watermelons in the background

Inna Kharlamova/Shutterstock Phoenix 1319/Shutterstock @xojourdanlouise/Tiktok @yanatheartist/Tiktok @therealoverloadcomedy/Tiktok (Licensed) Linzi Silverman

Gen Z is forgoing donation sites—and using TikTok for charity instead

Creators are monetizing content and pledging funds for global crises.

 

Tricia Crimmins

IRL

Posted on Dec 28, 2023   Updated on Dec 29, 2023, 1:36 pm CST

“What if I told you that you can play a 10-second game to help the people in Gaza?” Laila Ziada says in a November TikTok. “Every time someone plays this game and posts it, they are raising money for Gaza.” 

Ziada is talking about Filter for Good, a TikTok effect that asks users to move a slice of watermelon along a winding path to gather watermelon seeds. Ziada has posted about it numerous times, in addition to many other videos raising awareness about Palestinian loss of life during the Israeli-Hamas war.

Filter for Good has been used in over 10 million TikTok videos since it was launched on Nov. 6 and raised $14,000 in aid for Palestinians. 

@lailoolz 🍉🍉🍉 @Jourdan 🖤 #filterforgood #freepalestine #foryou ♬ original sound – Lailoolz │ RT Student 🫁

That $14,000 didn’t come from individual donations: The funds came entirely from TikTok as part of the app’s Effect Creator Rewards program, through which TikTokers can make money from their effects. Many TikTokers have pledged that any potential revenue they get from monetized effects will go towards humanitarian efforts in the Congo, Syria, Haiti, Yemen, Palestine, and other areas affected by conflict.

Instead of donating to organizations that provide global aid to areas in crisis, many members of Gen Z are opting to use monetized TikTok effects or audios to generate funds that will then be donated to humanitarian causes.

Citing the ease of using a filter quickly (and for free) and distrust of GoFundMe thanks to its history with scams, some users say that using TikTok effects to donate abroad is the best way to do your part. 

An Effect House success story

Jourdan Johnson is the mind behind Filter for Good. She’s a freelance augmented reality (AR) designer and an ambassador for TikTok’s new Effects House, a TikTok-created software that allows users to create AR filters, effects, and games to be used within videos on the app. 

Johnson told the Daily Dot that she’d created TikTok effects before, but Filter for Good has been used the most out of all of them.

“This is the first one I’ve done personally for this intent with this magnitude,” Johnson said.

Johnson was able to monetize Filter for Good through TikTok’s Effect Creator Rewards program, which stipulates that effects created within TikTok’s software can be monetized if they are used by 200,000 or more TikTokers within the first 90 days that they’re published on the app.

Each effect can make up to $14,000 total, as in the case of Filter for Good. TikTokers must be over 18 and post videos from regions in which rewards are eligible.

Johnson said she chose to raise money for Gazans through a TikTok effect because she recognized that other people scrolled through TikTok just as much as she did. Why not capitalize on all that scrolling “for good”?

Johnson speaking at TikTok’s Effect House virtual open house.
TikTok Effect House

And Johnson says Filter for Good’s reach and impact exemplify the power of social media.

“[Social media has] made it a lot easier to find like-minded individuals, whether that be organically or through the algorithm,” Johnson told the Daily Dot. “It’s just really cool to see how committed this social media generation has become and how we have decided to organize and mobilize.”

Johnson’s filter went viral as TikTokers like Ziada, Jordan Scott, Briel Adams-Wheatley, and actor Skai Jackson used the effect in their videos seen by millions of people.

On Dec. 15, Johnson posted a TikTok showing her donating the $7,000 of the funds she raised from Filter for Good to Doctors without Borders. She used the other $7,000 to buy eSIMs via Holafly for Gazans who have lost internet access. eSIMS are embedded subscriber identity module (SIM) cards that allow devices to connect to cellular networks.

“We’ve now donated 206 eSIMs to the people of Palestine,” Johnson says in her TikTok. “That is incredible.”

@xojourdanlouise FILTER FOR GOOD I DONATIONS UPDATE!! 🍉 $7k has been donated to #DoctorsWithoutBorders and $7k has been used to buy eSims to allow people to stay connected. Thank you to everyone who used/shared the filter and has continued to share updates and get educated on what is happening. I’ve listed other actionable items below! @Jourdan Johnson 🖤 Free resources to show support & take action: 1.) Amplify 🍉 voices! Engage with and repost videos that are sharing information/updates on what is happening. 2.) Call your reps, sign petitions, protest! Use resources like the app 5Calls or tinyurl.com/hlscallsreps which will identify your representatives and provide you with a script. 3.) Boycott! Your money is powerful. Learn about the brands you love and what they are doing during this time, and make your buying decisions accordingly. #effecthouse #watermelon #watermelonfilter #blackgirlsintech #augmentedreality #socialchange #filterforgood ♬ original sound – Jourdan Johnson 🖤

In a virtual open house for Effect House, TikTok personnel talked about the motivations behind the program.

“We also believe that creativity should be rewarded,” said Kudzi Chikumbu, TikTok’s global head of creator marketing. 

TikTok’s head of AR product, Kathy Wang, talked about reward scope. She said TikTok had dedicated $6 million to the Effect Creator Rewards program and that over 25 billion videos have been made using Effect House software since it launched in April 2022. 

For context, between January and March this year alone, over 14 billion videos were posted across all of TikTok. The company was reportedly worth over $50 billion in 2020.

Larger trends

Lucy Bernholz, the director of Stanford University’s Digital Civil Society Lab and a Senior Research Fellow at the University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, says TikTok’s rewards program is strategic: TikTok gives money to creators and lets creators choose where the money goes. The process costs more than it would for TikTok to donate directly to a charity—but TikTok’s rewards program process aids the company’s customer retention.

“One has to wonder what [TikTok’s] justification is—and that’s where the customer acquisition, ‘good vibes’ and other benefits come into play,” Bernholz told the Daily Dot. 

Still, Bernholz says that Johnson’s Filter for Good success story is “the best case scenario” philanthropically when it comes to individuals finding creative ways to raise money via social media and/or mutual aid.

“Every app that’s gotten really popular at some point has had a new kind of ‘giving’ emerge on it,” Bernholz said. The app then “raises a lot of money for something, which is usually the thing that gets [it] enough press attention that people who use the app realize they now have this capacity to do good things.”

Bernholz said social media fundraising is also part of the larger philanthropic trend that is “circumventing the entire infrastructure that society has developed for accountable giving,” meaning TikTokers could market their effect on the assumption that they’ll donate its revenue to humanitarian efforts and then not do so.

And success stories like Johnson’s don’t mean that everyone will be able to harness the power of TikTok to fundraise for a cause of their choice and solve the world’s problems.

“Very rarely does that mode of giving stay big and meaningful beyond the initial kind of ta-da-ness of it,” Bernholz told the Daily Dot. “It becomes part of the every day.”

That’s certainly already happened on TikTok: There is now an abundance of videos asking viewers to use other effects to raise money for Gazans or people in the Congo. One creator even begged users to keep engaging with humanitarian effects and not let their For You Pages “go totally back to normal.”

Calls for accountability

TikTokers like Destiny Johnson (no relation to Jourdan Johnson) have hope that their filters will be used by 200,000 TikTokers or more and be monetizable. 

Destiny Johnson’s “Yemen Effect” became eligible for revenue on Dec. 14. She told the Daily Dot she will donate part of any proceeds she receives from the Effect Creator Rewards program to humanitarian efforts in Yemen, which has been embroiled in a civil war for almost 10 years.

Destiny Johnson also plans on donating to the “General Strike Fund,” a GoFundMe that aims to fund a general strike across the U.S. 

At the time of publication, her effect had been used in almost 14,000 videos on TikTok, meaning she needs a little over 186,000 people to use the effect in their videos to reach the 200,000 mark and generate revenue. She has posted multiple viral videos about her effect to boost awareness of its existence.

Destiny Johnson said that she was inspired by the effects from creators like Jourdan Johnson and wanted to contribute to humanitarian efforts herself.

“I didn’t want to sit around and not do anything,” Destiny Johnson told the Daily Dot. She decided to create a monetized effect because “people don’t trust GoFundMe. People don’t like to hand their money directly to someone because they feel like they will scam them.” 

Destiny Johnson told the Daily Dot that she chose to potentially contribute to the General Strike Fund GoFundMe because its creator “shows that she’s trustworthy and credible.”

She’s focused on accountability because she told followers that earlier effects she’d created were monetizable before she knew that TikTokers had to be a part of the Effect Creator Rewards program to generate revenue from effects. 

“I have made multiple videos clearing up the misinformation. But sometimes people just don’t want to see the good in things,” Destiny Johnson told the Daily Dot. “I don’t enjoy being called a liar … I can’t really show them proof if there’s no money [yet].”

Destiny Johnson also said she is prioritizing transparency because if she’s not hypervigilant, she could end up in a situation like Tatyana Ceant, an independent artist who has received backlash after she announced the royalties for a TikTok audio she monetized were delayed.

Ceant’s song “abusin’ me” has been used over 270,000 videos on TikTok since Nov. 6 and has been streamed almost 330,000 times on Spotify. Ceant told the Daily Dot that she plans to use the royalties she receives from her song being streamed on Spotify and used in TikToks to donate to the Congolicious and Friends of the Congo foundations. 

She had initially said that she would be able to make donations in December but told the Daily Dot she found out that her music distributor, UnitedMasters, takes up to 45 days to process streaming royalties.

“A song put out November 7th will not receive payment until at least mid-January,” Ceant says in a recent TikTok clearing up the situation. “I do want to apologize because at one point I thought I was gonna get paid in December. But that was definitely my error.”

She also posted multiple videos under a TikTok playlist called “ACCOUNT AUDITS” that show she hasn’t yet received royalties for the song.

@yanatheartist WHEN WILL I GET PAID FROM ABUSIN ME? #questions #factcheckyourfeed ♬ original sound – YANAtheartist🇭🇹🫶🏿🇨🇩

The mix-up led Ceant to receive a barrage of hate comments on her videos that accuse her of lying about her intent to donate after saying that streams of the song would support humanitarian efforts in the Congo.

“You’re evil taking advantage of a horrible situation such as genocide all for your awful songs,” one commenter wrote. “So selfish.”

Ceant, who is an activist in addition to being a musical artist, says that “activism isn’t easy, and if this is what it takes, [she’ll] adapt.”

“I’m a bit disheartened,” she told the Daily Dot. “This accusation has been placed against a lot of my peers and they overcome it. I just have to patiently wait for the royalty payment.”

Although some are stringent regarding accountability, other TikTok users are happy just to use a filter that purports to help people in conflict zones.

“Seeing people more concerned about whether or not they can trust someone who created a filter that takes 5 seconds at most,” a TikToker says in a video that includes Palestine Watermelon Drop, another potentially monetizable effect, “than they are with the actual human lives being lost.” 

Despite other TikToker’s accountability concerns, Filter for Good’s Jourdan Johnson has continued to benefit from the goodwill she built up from her effect and created more filters that can be monetized for humanitarian causes.

One of them, Filter for Good II, is a game in which TikTokers play as an okapi trying to keep the star on the Democratic Republic of Congo flag from falling. Johnson says the effect will generate funds for the Congo if it is used by 200,000 or more TikTokers. It had been used by over 75,000 TikTokers at the time of publication.

“The FILTER FOR GOOD was such a success,” Johnson wrote in the caption of a TikTok that features Ceant’s song. “I’m hopeful we can continue generating aid in this free and accessible way.”

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*First Published: Dec 28, 2023, 7:00 am CST