SXSW’s Homeless Hotspots Draw Jon Stewart’s Ire

    March 15, 2012
    Josh Wolford
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You might have heard about a recent “experiment” that took place at this year’s SXSW festival, as it sparked quite the controversy earlier this week.

A marketing company called BBH Labs launched what they called a “charitable innovation experiment,” that on one hand gave “jobs” to about a dozen homeless in the area while providing a necessary service for festival-goers – internet access. On the other hand, it was a cruel, dehumanizing experiment that exploited the city’s homeless population.

BBH gave thirteen voluntary homeless participants a MiFi hotspot device and a shirt that said “I am ______, a 4G Hotspot. Through a small donation (a recommended amount of $2), festival-goers could have the password for the Wi-Fi and use it for a designated period of time. Critics of the program called it dehumanizing, disgusting, immoral, exploitative, and representative of the class disconnect in our culture.

The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart is also a critic of the “experiment.”

“Rather than train homeless people to become computer workers, we’re training them to become computer equipment,” he says. One of the biggest problems he has is with those “I’m a 4G Hotspot” shirts, and he also tried to figure out what some of the passwords could be. Enjoy:

This is clearly a controversial topic. BBH Labs’ Saneel Radia (who is behind the idea) has compared the Homeless Hotspots to just a modern day iteration of the Homeless selling newspapers for companies: “We’d really like to see iterations of the program in which this media channel of hotspots is owned by the homeless organizations and used as a platform for them to create content. We are doing this because we believe in the model of street newspapers.”

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

  • Emma Cookson

    I would like to clarify the inaccurate representation of how much participants in the Homeless Hotspots program were paid. This was NOT a daily amount of just $20.

    It was agreed at the outset that all participants in the Homeless Hotspots program would be guaranteed a minimum payment of $50 daily for a maximum of 5-6 hours’ work, an amount that exceeds Texas minimum wage. In addition, every single dollar donated to the program also goes to the participants, and supporters can continue to donate at homelesshotspots.org. The participants were paid a $20 cash stipend upfront for each day worked during the four-day program, but this was not their total pay. We haven’t yet calculated the totals as donations continue to come in, but we do know it will work out to be significantly more than $50 per day for each participant.

    Emma Cookson, Chairman, BBH New York