On the internet, people care twice as much about animals as they do humans

What charities are we promoting on Facebook? A new study has the unsurprising answer.

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Social media has made supporting a cause easier than ever. So what charities are people "Liking" on Facebook? The ones that involve animals, of course.

A new study on social philanthropy shows that animal-related causes are twice as popular on social media as those that advocate for human rights. Even less popular: The environment, poverty and hunger, education, and homelessness.

"It's true that, on the internet, people gravitate toward the lighthearted — robots and cats and memes, that kind of thing," Julie Dixon, deputy director of Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication, told Bloomberg Businessweek. "Causes and issues that tap more into the lighthearted do generate more attention."

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That's right: We decide to support causes based on the same impulse that makes us click on BuzzFeed lists — because animals are cute. Refugees? Apparently not as appealing.

Not that there is anything wrong with helping animals in need. The problem is that social media (and by that, the study mostly means Facebook) is increasingly becoming the main way we discover causes.

The researchers found that a friend or family member on social media was by far the most common way people found out about a charity that they later supported, dwarfing online news sites and magazines, in-person recommendations, and TV news stories.

What is clear is that philanthropic organizations, especially global ones, have to step up their social media game. While they may encounter their fair share of "slacktivists" — apathetic do-gooders who "support" causes solely through Facebook "Likes" — more than half of the people surveyed said they took further action after clicking on a cause, most commonly by donating money.

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Keith Wagstaff is a staff writer at TheWeek.com covering politics and current events. He has previously written for such publications as TIME, Details, VICE, and the Village Voice.