“Can you help me?” she tweeted.

I had never heard of her before. A new Twitter follower.

She attached a link. Curious, I clicked. It led to a link at a crowd-funding site that described how her son overcame illness and depression but has run out of money to go to college. The family, on fixed income, needed funds to keep the boy (actually a 24-year-old man) in school. I felt bad for the family, at least if the story was true.

But this is something I would not tweet to my Twitter tribe, let alone blog about it for her (as she requested). It was suspicious. A brand-new Twitter follower hitting me up for money?  And a look at her stream showed she was connecting to other bloggers in the same way. And why couldn’t the young man get a part-time job or financial aid?

“How do I know you are real?” I messaged back. “I can’t lead my Twitter followers into a scam.”

Ten minutes later my phone rang. The woman had found my number and was calling to appeal, pleading for her legitimacy. But even after a live phone call, I could not be convinced that this was true. I just didn’t know the person.

I feel bad.  Usually I’m a softie for this stuff and will go out of my way to help people. But there are two things that held me back.

You are what you tweet

First, mass appeals on Twitter don’t work any way. It is very, very difficult to get the “weak connections” of social media to open their wallets.  I blogged it about this idea a few months ago, showing that strong connections are the ones who come through for you in an appeal like this, not the loose connections of Twitter.

The second issue of course is that I simply did not know this person … in fact I had never even heard from her through a tweet or blog comment before. It’s hard for me to want to help somebody who just followed me that day. If you are a trusted friend, I will do anything to support you. But it’s kind of creepy having a stranger call you up asking for money, even if she was a nice person on the phone.

What do you do?

Are you getting appeals like this, too?  I hate saying no to a person in need but I think ignoring this request was responsible. Do you agree? When people ask for assistance, how do you decide whether to help them or not?

Illustration courtesy Konstatin Scholl and Flickr Creative Commons

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