A selfie goes viral for a selfless cause

A social media challenge at Internal Medicine Meeting 2019 raised money for worthy causes.

What do you get when you combine a 10-foot-tall #IMproud poster, a dose of friendly competition, a desire for internists to give back to their communities, and the connective power of social media? You get the #ACPselfiechallenge, which unfolded during Internal Medicine Meeting 2019.

The Tuesday before the meeting's kickoff, I received a Twitter notification that the Consult Guys (@ConsultGuys), Geno J. Merli, MD, MACP, and Howard H. Weitz, MD, MACP, had mentioned me in a tweet, photographing my #IMproud publicity poster, one of many displayed throughout the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Both physicians are medical school professors I've stayed in touch with.

A collage of selfies collected during Internal Medicine Meeting 2019 Courtesy of Avi OGlasser MD FACP
A collage of selfies collected during Internal Medicine Meeting 2019. Courtesy of Avi O’Glasser, MD, FACP.

My Twitter friend and colleague, Mark Shapiro, MD, PhD, FACP (@ETSshow), quickly responded and issued the challenge: “#MedTwitter raise your hands if you want @aoglasser to autograph this amazing poster and take a picture with it!”

One of my interest areas and professional niches is using and analyzing the use of Twitter (or #medtwitter as we affectionately refer to it) by physicians and physician organizations. I am a firm believer that Twitter and social media empower learning, community building, and mentorship and sponsorship—as well as mobilize us for physician-based advocacy and social justice awareness.

While Twitter can also provide a platform for fun, lively banter among the friends and colleagues we've made, #medtwitter tends to stay far more robust than superficial. Because of all this, and also because the thought of five days of selfies with the large poster coming across my Twitter newsfeed was off-putting, I wanted to go beyond a simple selfie challenge and make better use of our time and connectivity. I quickly tweeted back: “I will up the ante. Find me, introduce yourself, let's get a selfie in front of it. Tweet it. I'll donate $5 to the ACP educational fund #im2019.”

ACP-sponsored podcasters The Curbsiders and Adam Rodman, MD, FACP, of Bedside Rounds quickly obliged—it was $20 by Wednesday's end. The next morning, Maria T. Carney, MD, FACP, replied to my challenge by tweeting a picture of fellow New York Chapter member Nick Fitterman, MD, MACP, and his #IMproud poster, matching my selfie challenge donations.

Then a healthy dose of friendly competition developed: Who could raise the most money? The selfies continued, and by Friday morning, the hashtag #ACPselfiechallenge was being used. I joined in the fun and took my own selfie with Dr. Fitterman.

On Friday, I also realized that we might be pulling attention away from ACP's official charity partner for the conference, local organization Philabundance, so the incentive was raised to $5 each to the ACP Educational Fund and Philabundance per selfie. Dr. Carney immediately tweeted that she would match that, too.

As participation grew and the #ACPselfiechallenge went viral, another unexpected but remarkable thing happened. Other conference attendees, nonconference attendees following the challenge remotely, and members of ACP leadership, including EVP/CEO Darilyn V. Moyer, MD, FACP, started announcing that they would also match whatever we raised.

By the end of the conference on Saturday evening, 55 selfies had been taken with my poster (including the head counts in group selfies), many with people I knew but many also with people I had never met before. I immediately donated $550, split between the ACP Educational Fund and Philabundance. Multiple matches then rolled in, and we estimate that we raised at least $3,000 to $4,000.

Were my original goals of having fun, avoiding narcissistic “selfie-culture,” and demonstrating the ability of social media and Twitter to mobilize us for good realized? Absolutely! I was blown away by the camaraderie, connectivity, and generosity of spirit that a simple crowdsourced challenge over Twitter generated.