Hashtag Trends – OXFAM & MSF… be there for which of them?


The picture that caused people to PROTEST online on Sunday. OXFAM used this image of an MSF worker and an ebola patient (obtained from getty images) to raise funds for their efforts in tackling ebola.

The comment box went crazy with people shouting shame at the ‘deceit’ and ‘masquerading’. Some passionate person started a campaign “say Protest if you disagree” I won’t take sides, even though I did post a comment. The two arguments were:

Argument A

People need help, does it matter where the money goes. Let’s stop focusing on minor details and just stop this terrible situation.

Argument B

Passing off another organisation’s humanitarian efforts as your own is dishonest, especially since that is not your remit of assistance. Money should go to MSF because that’s their work or take down the campaign.

Both arguments were presented by different people and the conversation continued… longer than it should have.

I am choosing to use this situation as a lesson in crisis communications. First lesson and really the fundamental of crisis comms 101.

1) Say something… anything to stop the madness!

OXFAM said nothing… so people went on and on. Facebook users revealed more than the ad campaign represented. A user stated that OXFAM appeared on the ebola emergency scene 7 months late, long after MSF had established operations. That meant they were months behind in scaling up. The ad portrays a different situation.

2) Take stuff down, stop production, stop everything to mitigate further damage

The ad remained and the blood-bath continued beside it. Some people posted the original photo


Very clever to crop out the MSF flag. Alot of comments were astonished that the photo was still up despite the backlash.  It was Sunday… social media officer was off the clock. The longer it went on, the more revealing the comments became.

3) Blanket sorry don’t cut it…

The Director of Communications issued a statement buried in Twit longer

We’re sorry – we got this wrong – and we’d like to apologise to all who feel misled or deceived by this image or the editorial content of our post. 

The apology was long and explained alot. Great. Astonishingly, the person in charge of the Facebook page messed up further. They copy and pasted the apology in the comments section, fair enough. People weren’t having it. ‘Take down the photo’ some insisted and others said they should give all money they made from that campaign to MSF. So the administrator decided to write, for example, “Dalia we understand your concern but… [copy and past apology]”. “John Doe, you are right that’s why… [copy and paste bits of apology]”
WORST. MISTAKE. EVER!!! There was a barrage of the same message chopped and thrown all over the comments section. It was sloppy to say the least (in my opinion). That further supported accusations of OXFAM being disengenuous. FAIL.

The final nail in the coffin was a Facebook user urging OXFAM to not apologise to those who commented on the facebook but to apologise to MSF and apologise to the people suffering with ebola because OXFAM came 7 months late.

The picture has been removed from the Facebook page.

I say it was a mini crisis not handled well. The fortunate thing is Journos didnt jump on this story because it was pure “charity fundraising abuses” gold. The situation could have been handled better. You got lucky this time.

My views done and dusted, what do you think? Which argument do you support?


5 thoughts on “Hashtag Trends – OXFAM & MSF… be there for which of them?

  1. Argument C: Storm in a teacup. Oxfam and MSF often work together. Oxfam are a recognized expert organisation in emergency response WASH (water and sanitation), providing water supply to field hospitals or other facilities like Ebola treatment centres — while MSF does the clinical side. Maybe this one was technically an error. But there are Oxfam staff inside MSF hot zones as we speak.

    (I am not currently in any way associated with Oxfam).

    • Thank you @exfam for presenting argument C. It is correct that MSF, OXFAM and other agencies work together in an emergency situation and often operate in the same camp or treatment center. However, people were emphasising that an agency can’t receive donations using other agency operations. A way to avoid conflict organisations have set up united appeals such as the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) or other coordinated efforts. MSF, however, is not apart of DEC so in this instance the use of this image is misleading the public. We may know better having some affiliation with the humanitarian sphere but the general public, who make their donations, may not know. Transparency is required.

      (I am currently not affiliated with MSF)

  2. At least OXFAM should have had the decency of explaining that the picture was representative of MSF work with whomw they were working on the ebola crisis.

  3. It seems as if they heard my suggestion and made a DEC appeal for ebola. They were more forthcoming about their operations, which it great. What been the reaction of the public to the appeal I wonder?

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