Did you ever go on a weekend getaway or girls’ night with friends and not bring any money with you? Most of us as functioning adults would never think of such a thing, but because of a growing number of similar maneuvers on TikTok, people are actually doing this – intentionally.
It’s all part of a trend some call “internet panhandling.” People are asking for money by putting their Cash App, Venmo, or other mobile payment app handles on their car windshields and windows, and guess what: it’s just trashy.
This trend was even the focus of a Washington Post article that rebranded it as “communities” coming together through “random acts of kindness.” But is this really about kindness, or more of a statement on the collective attitude of narcissism and entitlement spreading through our culture?
TikTok’s Newest and Cringiest Trend
Up until recently, we used crowdfunding sites when people we knew or we ourselves were in genuine, desperate need. GoFundMes are all over social media, many of them for families with a sick child who just can’t cope, or with the goal of buying a house for a deserving person who’s lived their life on the streets. While those worthy causes were probably always what GoFundMe was catering towards, there are also more than just a few scams out there, hiding among the genuine ones.
A New Jersey couple was one such example, taking to GoFundMe with the story of how their car had run out of gas on the highway, and a homeless man nearby used his last $20 to buy their gas. The couple started a GoFundMe to pay him back, raising $400,000. It would be a touching tale, were the original intention behind it not to scam each and every donor out of their money through tugging at their heartstrings.
The true story eventually came to light after the homeless man in question sued the couple, who’d used most of the donations to buy designer handbags and even a BMW. The truth came out, as it almost always does. The couple and the homeless man were in on the whole thing, but the couple got greedy with their new windfall. The couple pled guilty to theft, and are facing even more charges on a federal scale.
The couple and the homeless man were in on the whole thing, but the couple got greedy.
I do hesitate to call this new TikTok trend a scam, but only slightly. Contributors pretty much know who they’re giving donations to when they see that Cash App or Venmo handle on social media or on a car, but there’s still an element to the whole thing which feels pretty scammy.
Usually, the handle is included with a brief blurb about why the individual in question is requesting money in the first place. As the WaPo article outlines, these reasons range from “recently divorced” to “bachelorette trip” to everything in between. It’s not altogether dissimilar from that original GoFundMe involving the homeless man – in either sense, there’s a huge appeal to a person’s pathos, their emotions and feelings, motivating them to donate to these causes.
We Denigrate Regular Panhandling, So Why Not This?
I’ve been asked for money on the street, as I’m sure many of you have. Living in an urban area with a large homeless population, it’s essentially inevitable. While it can feel difficult to turn away someone standing right in front of you, you also might feel it’s necessary out of safety for yourself and safety for them as well.
With this in mind, it feels like almost a personal affront to see a money app handle on someone’s car or in their social media bio. If we say no to the person who’s struggling and is on the street, why would we be motivated to give to someone who isn’t struggling at all?
If we say no to the beggar on the street, why would we give to someone who isn’t struggling?
Therein lies the problem. These individuals already have the means and are privileged to be able to pay for their girls’ night or their bachelorette weekend, when many others working jobs just to make ends meet wish they could do the same. And we’re talking about big amounts of money here, not just a few dollars. One dental hygienist with 172,000 followers on social media revealed that on her trip from Tennessee to South Carolina, she made $3,200. First of all, it’s unlikely that she would’ve made that much money without her large social media following. She’s also not an hourly worker, and based on the stats, probably makes upwards of 60k a year. As one critic points out, “A good number of the people who sent her money probably make less than she does, but she accepted it without shame. And that’s the common theme here, a total lack of shame.”
None of these cash grabs would be as successful if these individuals were going up to people in person asking for money so they could have drinks or go on vacation. When people solicit money from strangers in person, there might be a tinge of embarrassment or humiliation, but people are brazen enough to do it online because on social media none of those consequences apparently exist.
Entitlement Leads to Full on Narcissism
It’s no secret that the pandemic has made us meaner, but it’s entirely possible it’s also made us more entitled. The level of entitlement here is undeniable, but that attitude is intrinsically tied to narcissism. Why? Not only are these people not struggling and completely open about it, but there’s no sense of boundaries, privacy, humility, or gratitude. Most of us would never dream of letting thousands of people on a highway know we’re getting divorced, and we’d also never justify asking for money just because of that.
When I first encountered this on TikTok, it brought to mind how many times I’d seen people from my university on Twitter or Instagram dropping their Venmo or Cash App “just because.” These people weren’t struggling at all; in fact, on paper, most of them had it better than I did. These people, based on their own admission in the WaPo piece, assume that there’s no harm in asking, even if they don’t get any donations. But the implication there is that people are selfish for not contributing, not that they’re entitled for asking in the first place.
Not only are these people not struggling, but there’s no sense of boundaries, privacy, or gratitude.
Why is this trend concerning? Because maybe, not too far from now, asking for money or donations won’t just be a “suggestion.” We’ve already seen this kind of rhetoric repackaged in all kinds of forms, whether it’s so-called student loan “forgiveness” or reparations. Through this logic, every person out there has an apparent reason to ask for money on the basis of their own lived experience, but even the most desperate among us who are struggling would never think of inviting online friends and complete strangers into our lives.
We’ve seen a lot of toxic trends come out of TikTok, and probably a lot more to come. But this one will go down as probably the most obnoxious.
You wouldn’t go up to a stranger on the street and ask for money “just because,” so why would you do it online? It’s one thing to have a sick kid, medical treatment you can’t afford, a parent who needs a helping hand, or covering funeral costs for someone who deserves it. A bachelorette party isn’t the same thing...at all.
Social media panhandling is a surefire way to motivate many to lose respect for you, and it’s just another example of how insulated we can become when we believe there are no real-life consequences as a result of our actions online.
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