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Forget the selfie: Time for the 'unselfie'

Tuesday, 3 Dec 2013 | 6:12 PM ET

Somehow the idea of "giving" gets lost during the "season of giving."

With all the focus on spending and buying, giving to those in need seems to have been buried under a pile of boxes, wrapping paper and discount-TV scrums.

But social media may be coming to the rescue. "The Unselfie Movement," a campaign in which people take pictures of themselves and their favorite charitable cause, is spreading like wildfire around the Web.

(Read more: Why rich should skip charity, McNealy)

It might be reaching a new peak today, dubbed "Giving Tuesday," with the intent of setting aside a day devoted to charitable giving. More than 8,000 organizations in the U.S. have signed up as partners, from charities to businesses to small towns to cities.

The idea for the "unselfie" was hatched by Matthew Bishop, a philanthropy expert, co-author of "Philanthrocapitalism" and one of the creators of Giving Tuesday.

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"To mark this #givingtuesday, anyone who wants to celebrate the powerful positive role that giving plays in our world is being asked to share their own 'unselfie' on their favorite social media sites and by email," Bishop wrote in an influencer post on LinkedIn.

It seems to be working. There are multiple unselfie Instagram pages, countless on Twitter and loads of unselfies on Facebook and other social-media sites. Even celebrities like Heidi Klum and Katie Couric have unselfied.

(Read more: 'Kids and dogs' heir to Cowell's fortune)

To take an unselfie, all you have to do is write on a piece of paper the cause you're supporting on Giving Tuesday. It could be as simple as "Red Cross/Philippines" or as involved as "Alternative cures for Malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa."

People then hold the piece of paper in front of their face and snap an unselfie.

Of course, some may argue that the unselfie is self-promotional. But Bishop has another take.

(Read more: Calls to raise taxes for the rich are growing)

"The unselfie is emphatically not about showing off or advertising how virtuous you are being," he wrote. It is "a way of saying, this cause is important to me—and seeing that, the people who take an interest in you may be inspired to look more deeply into the causes you support, or to think about, and hopefully unselfie, the causes that matter to them."

If nothing else, it's a more interesting trend to watch today than retailer discounting.

—By CNBC's Robert Frank. Follow him on Twitter: @robtfrank.

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  • A reporter and editor, Robert Frank is a leading authority on the American wealthy for CNBC.