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Why Is This Billionaire Giving Away Money on Twitter?

Bill Pulte ostensibly launched #TwitterPhilanthropy to help others, but he might be its biggest beneficiary.

Twitter/@pulte

If you or your family is really hard up for cash right now, you might be able to turn to Twitter for free money. There’s a billionaire handing out free money to people on CashApp right now and apparently, there’s no catch. Here’s what’s going on.

Bill Pulte made his money the old-fashioned way: he inherited it from his grandfather, also named Bill Pulte, founder of one of the largest home construction and real estate companies in the country.

The younger Pulte runs a private equity firm and the Detroit Blight Authority, a nonprofit that tears down vacant homes in its eponymous city. But in recent weeks, Pulte has become better known for what he calls #TwitterPhilanthropy, giving money away, often at random, to his followers on the social network.

On its face, it seems kind of nice, a guy with a lot giving to those with a little. But when you think about it and look at how Pulte is going about it, the entire enterprise is depressing. It comes down to a guy who, through an accident of birth, inherited a bunch of money dangling it in front of people who didn’t, a self-serving effort to build a public profile around sentiment instead of real impact.

Here’s a typical tweet:

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  1. Where do you get the flu shot?
    My doctor or pediatrician
    A pharmacy
    Work
    Somewhere else
    I don't get the flu shot
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Doesn’t this feel more like gambling than philanthropy? And doesn’t the sentiment that he really wants you, his loyal follower, to win seem inserted to make Pulte seem like a great guy?

Pulte’s follower count jumped from around 10,150 on July 1 to 445,300 today, at least partially because he requires people who want to win to follow him, as he’s constantly reminding his followers. As a publicity stunt, #TwitterPhilanthropy has clearly been wildly successful.

Then there’s the saccharine tone of his other tweets, which insist that #TwitterPhilanthropy is about building real connections with people despite the fact that the entire thing is transactional.

What kind of family is built on randomly selected winners to receive the cash?

Oh wait, it’s not about cash, this hashtag campaign from a billionaire that lures people in by promising cash.

A quick glance at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (and common sense) shows that physiological and safety needs are prerequisites to love and belonging. It’s probably easy for Pulte to forget about those because he’s literally never had to worry about them.

Finally, there’s Pulte’s willful blindness to the conditions that have made so many people desperate for a random handout from a billionaire on the internet.

Writer Anand Giridharadas, the author of a book called Winners Take All — which targets the hollowness of philanthropy — has suggested Pulte donate to a group that fights for billionaires like him to pay more in taxes that fund programs that support working and middle-class people.

#TwitterPhilanthropy instead distributes this money haphazardly and undemocratically in a way that sort of treats the symptoms of a tiny number of people instead of the causes of their hardships — mainly economic inequality and a threadbare social safety net — on a massive level.

Of course, if you’re already insanely wealthy and don’t want to become just extremely wealthy, those organizations run counter to your goals in a way that #TwitterPhilanthropy doesn’t.

Scrolling through Pulte’s tweets, it’s clear he hasn’t given much thought to Giridharadas’s proposal. It’s still littered with “inspiring” stories of him chipping in on funerals, surgeries, and student loans because the story of why so many people struggle to afford these things isn’t a story Pulte is particularly interested in telling.