A mysterious benefactor, masked in the twitter handle @HiddenCash, has been tweeting clues to the location of hidden treasure all across San Francisco this week, sparking a city-sized version of the anarchic playground game Scrambling, in which desirable childhood items are tossed into the air and fought over by a baying mob.
Because adults don't really like Panini stickers or Wagon Wheels as much as they like cold, hard cash, the hidden envelopes all contain $100, secreted by public spots such as statues, parking meters and bathrooms. Treasure seekers describe racing strangers across beaches, falling over themselves to be the first to the booty, and tweeting photos of their win.
Who is the enigmatic philanthropist behind this frenzied giveaway, and what is the game behind the game? Previous tweets reveal that he has amassed a fortune in real estate, and that this is "a social experiment for good", with victors urged to "pay it forward". Most seem happy to play along, donating some or all of the cash to favoured charities and other deserving causes. The prospect of free money (even if you're not supposed to keep it) has proved massively popular – by Wednesday afternoon the account had amassed 137,000 followers in a week.
The mystery millionaire has declared his intention to start a nationwide movement of creative giving. Is this do-gooding, internet-led game of Survivor the way forward? Social media has proved itself an unexpected bedfellow of charitable donation. The democratic opportunities of virality mean awareness campaigns are not limited to large charities with marketing budgets. Innovations such as hashtag donations, which link bank accounts to tweets, make giving easy and impulsive. Gamifying is the obvious step to push everything over the top – making good deeds fun.
Harbingers of decline have long got their moany rocks off decrying the internet as a tool of isolation, selfishness and mean-spiritedness. So it's a cheering prospect that the wellspring of our altruistic natures could in fact be unlocked by the web. It's also fitting that touchy-feely San Francisco has witnessed this flowering of human potential, with other cities next. The philanthropist has revealed that there will be money drops in LA (when he is there on business), San Jose, New York and beyond, and that the game will continue until he has donated a six figure sum.
Redistributive justice, orchestrated by a possibly narcissistic puppetmaster – when it comes to forces for social good, we live in the age of Bruce Wayne, not Batman.
"I just hope some rich one percenter like me doesn't find it and keep it," @Hiddencash has said in an interview. And hopefully, unlike most bouts of Scrambling, the game won't end in lost teeth and internal bleeding.
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