My View

Rooney: Swearing off cyber sweeps

November 1, 2013 

Melissa Rooney


Over the years, I have participated in many Internet voting campaigns to try to earn money for organizations I support.

For instance, in 2010 I repeatedly voted for the Duke Lemur Center in a contest offered by Pepsi (after reading about it on the front-page of the Durham News); and in 2011, I solicited several listservs as well as heaps of personal contacts to vote for the Carrboro ArtsCenter to win $25,000 via the “Pepsi Refresh Project.”

No matter how many votes I cast or solicited, my organizations never won. By 2012, I decided to quit these Internet schemes by which corporations profit off human obsessive-compulsive and Internet-addictive tendencies under the guise of donating “free” money. At the end of the day, the money isn’t free – these companies get millions of profitable website “hits,” far-reaching marketing, and millions of customers’ contact information at minimal cost.

However, in September, I learned that Target was asking people to “help [them] give up to $5 million to schools all over the country” by voting via Facebook for their chosen school once per week until September 21 or until $5 million had been awarded, whichever occurred first. Schools earned $1/vote, up to $10,000 per school.

Well, this is a different beast, I persuaded myself. Persons can only vote once per week, so it’s not like people are just sitting in front of their computers, clicking away until the deadline. And there isn’t just one or a few winners – any school receiving at least 25 votes receives a check.

It also didn’t hurt that I had just become the president of the newly reinstated PTA at my daughter’s middle school.

Not only did I cave, I dove deep. I determined to win the maximum $10,000, and I emailed every teacher, parent, colleague, friend, family-member, listserv, Facebook-friend I could find on the Internet. I even joined new Facebook groups and invited new Facebook friends, many of whom I knew professionally, and asked them to vote for our school. As each week passed, enabling people to cast additional $1 votes, I sent reminder emails, even taking the time to individually message each and every one of my Facebook friends.

After two weeks of doing this, I had only accumulated around $170. I was flabbergasted. I mean, how hard was it to click on a tab to donate $1 to my kid’s school? Many of my friends were actively soliciting their Facebook friends and were just as confused as I was.

It became clear that most parents and teachers at our school didn’t even have Facebook accounts – something that was both frustrating and pleasantly surprising. Several of my friends commented that their friends didn’t have Facebook accounts either. No doubt, Facebook was certainly profiting from all the new members registering via this “GiveWithTarget” program.

Many of those I contacted didn’t want to give Target even remote access to their Facebook accounts, access that was apparently necessary to ensure that each person could only cast one vote/week.

“Come on,” I argued by email, “FB pages are public, regardless of the restrictions they pretend you can put on them. And it’s not like Target doesn’t get your personal information every time you use a credit card in that store.”

Turns out, my experience was not unique. Because they hadn’t enough votes, Target extended the original deadline to ensure the full $5 million was donated. I guess they get some extra credit for that.

“It’s one thing to acknowledge that big corps have our info through their own unscrupulous methods,” wrote one friend. “It’s another thing to give them permission to have it.”

Another email read: “I’m sad you can’t get ‘free’ money for the school – but I’m encouraged by the trend that perhaps everyone isn’t putting everything on FB anymore. Maybe it’s wishful thinking. We’re all ripe for cyberterrorism…”

I replied, “I’m glad people are starting to reject the ‘everything is public’ and ‘look at me at all hours of the day’ techno craze. I just wish they’d reject it after they vote for our school.”

At least one new Facebook friend, who I don’t know very well but whom I respect greatly, asked that I please disclude them from this kind of correspondence moving forward.

What had I become!!??

At the end of the contest, all my hard Internet work, time and integrity had earned my school $273. I was defeated. More importantly, I was ashamed.

For those of you I harassed, I apologize. Because it seemed easy, harmless and was for a very good cause (my middle school), I poorly chose to bend my own values. For those who voted anyway, thank you. I hereby proclaim that I will no longer solicit Internet votes. I still think big companies like Target owe society payback, but we shouldn’t have to sacrifice large chunks of our time, privacy and integrity in order to get it.

Melissa Rooney lives in Durham. She can be reached at


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