One possible strategy effective altruists should consider using in order to raise awareness of effective altruism is to try to contact famous people and tell them about effective altruism and effective altruist ideas. An advantage to this is that it has the potential for massive returns on investment. If someone with 50 thousand Twitter followers is introduced to effective altruism, this means that 50 thousand people are potentially introduced to effective altruism. More people in our movement means more people working on the world’s most pressing problems, and more people donating money to EA-affiliated charities.
The Church of Scientology has had a coordinated effort to target celebrities for conversion since c. 1955. Today, there are somewhere between 40,000 and 200,000 practicing Scientologists, so the campaign likely had some degree of impact. It’s possible EAs could try something similar. (This is not meant to defend Scientology, it simply provides a case study on the effectiveness of using celebrities to spread certain ideas.)
People may overestimate the difficulty of having conversations with famous people. Plenty of famous people have websites with publicly available email addresses. Many famous people also have Twitter accounts where they can be sent DMs. YouTube also has a super chat feature in which YouTube livestreamers can receive highlighted messages for a fee.
One possible disadvantage to this strategy is that extremely famous people may receive an extremely large number of messages, and don’t have time to sift through them all. Having a good understanding of effective altruism also takes a significant amount of time and research, so a simple message like “Have you heard of effective altruism?” may not be enough. The best targets for EA outreach may therefore be semi-famous people who have significant internet followings, but are available enough and have enough time on their hands to have long conversations and do extensive research into effective altruism.
Another factor to consider is the personality of the individuals being contacted. Famous people with high intelligence and openness to new ideas may be the best candidates for spreading effective altruism. Less intelligent famous people may be open to charitable causes that are more “normal”, but may lack the intelligence to understand things like transhumanism and AI safety. Younger famous people may be better candidates for EA outreach compared to older people, since young people tend to be higher in openness and are more easily able to learn new things, and may also tend to have younger audiences.
What do you all think of this idea of spreading effective altruism via converting famous people, and what do you all think is the best approach for how to do this?
This is something we are actively considering and planning to do more of at Giving What We Can! Finding the right people who may be well aligned with our messaging and goals, and have an audience that would resonate too is key. If anyone has appropriate suggestions, please feel free to email me!
I think this is a great idea and -- as a newish member here -- am surprised it's never been attempted.
Some additional thoughts...
While the terms "celebrity" and "influencer" can sometimes be used interchangeably (and crossover does exist), the marketing world often views the two personas as distinct. There has been some research on the differences between the "celebrity endorsement" and "influencer recommendation" with influencers often delivering better results. This is supported by micro influencers often getting higher engagement rates than much larger influencers and celebrities.
You can use this tool to not only explore the engagement rates of different Instagram influencers, but also the cost of partnerships. Here's a quick comparison between Justin Bieber and The Physics Girl :
The Physics Girl
Even with the lower engagement rate, you're still going to get massive exposure through Justin Bieber. However, audience match and behavior should still be considered when estimating CR (conversion rate):
This idea of "niching down" can also be applied to the cause area or organization. In other words, instead of a celebrity or influencer endorsing EA, they could instead promote specific EA-related causes or charities e.g. global poverty and health or Giving What We Can, AI alignment or The Future of Life Institute, etc. EA, as a cause area and philosophy, has a bit of a learning curve attached and some/many people might not want to put in the work -- losing them as potential advocates along the way.
On the other hand, a specific cause or charity is likely easier for the uninitiated to understand and support. Some examples of messaging (celebrity voice)...
Each of those blurbs could be punched up, but I tried to keep the last lines as close as possible for a more apples-to-apples comparison (subjective as that may be). There are pros and cons to each but, generally, the more targeted, clearer, and specific a message, the higher its engagement and CTR (click-through rate). Still, you'd want to test variations across audiences, cause areas, and CTAs (calls to action).
All of that said, I think celebrities/influencers promoting EA would be mostly good. My guess is that going more granular with aligned influencer audiences would produce better quality and longer lasting results.
I both think this is 'obviously' good in the expected value sense that's going to be undervalued by most people, and likely to be cringe if done by many or at least some fraction of people who try to cram some propaganda down someone's throat.
"Have you heard the good word of effective altruism?" click
Maybe I'd point at an ethos more like 'find scenes you vibe in, befriend and converse with powerful people in those scenes, and they will naturally receive your values through osmosis'.
Maybe most people here should just focus on engaging in forthright exchange with each other and others you find in the world, and this will naturally tend to exert a memetic gravity that pulls people in rather than trying to push on others.
It could be more effective to engage celebrities who've already supported EA or parts of EA to do so more publicly and often, or otherwise get more involved.
We already have celebrities who've narrated parts of Peter Singer's The Life You Can Save:
Joseph Gordon-Levitt was on a panel at EA Global.
Cate Blanchett was reading The Precipice.
There are lots of celebrities who care about animal protection, and we could approach them about effective animal advocacy.