Panhandling in the digital age

by | Feb 28, 2024 | Opinion

I can only assume that panhandling has existed since the creation of wealth. While some do it because they need money, others con people into thinking they need it. But it’s no longer exclusive to mall parking lots or other places where there’s likely to be people. Panhandling skyrocketed with the rise of the internet. You can now ask the entire world for money through websites like GoFundMe.

But before we start talking about the ethics behind it, let’s define panhandling first. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, panhandling is when you ask strangers for money. This generally happens in a public space (the internet in this case). So… is it wrong by definition?

Well, I don’t think it’s wrong to ask for money or food if you need it. I have my problems with capitalism and the fact that it requires poverty and homelessness to exist is one of them. If people need a bit of extra money to meet their basic needs, there’s nothing wrong with asking for it. I can also understand turning to crowdfunding to cover funerals or medical expenses. And that’s most of what I see on GoFundMe.But there are other things, like somebody wanting a PlayStation 5, that I’m less likely to support.

So let’s talk about that. I grew up in poverty and for the first time in my life, I have a financial safety net. This means I don’t have to worry about housing or food for a little while if I lose my job. I know what it’s like to have less. But when somebody’s born with a silver spoon, they don’t know how to function in regular society. A lot of their friendships are wealth-based and if they go down a rung, they may lose them. So E-begging is the only way they can make money without losing the lifestyle they have. While my sympathy is hindered because I still live in poverty, I understand the need for community. But wealthy people rarely use things like GoFundMe to E-beg. They’ll often turn to live streaming to form a community around themselves. It’s sneakier because it seems like a job instead of begging. You have to talk to people or do certain things at thresholds, but panhandling has always been labour.

This happens on TikTok Live more than any other server. What happens is that a viewer can give gifts to the person streaming. These gifts turn into in-app currency. You can then turn it into real money through either a credit card or PayPal. That said, you have to be a partner, which has a few other requirements, but that’s the gist of it. These streams very rarely feature low-income women and almost never feature low-income men. It’s usually somebody traditionally attractive who’s interacting with their viewers. If you want them to take notice of you, you usually need to send them a gift. Now, I could go on and on about the business behind this, but this is a subtle, manipulative form of E-begging.

So which types are ethical?

I think it’s fine to ask for money if you’re low-income and need surgery, to pay for a funeral or what have you. These things are expensive. Heck, everyday life is expensive. If you’re okay with asking for money or you’re at a point where you need to, there is nothing wrong with that. Needing charity is fine. But asking people for money because you have an extravagant lifestyle feels a little more morally grey to me.

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