Were you all as confused as I was when your Facebook news feed started to pop up with messages like the one above last week? A quick search on Know Your Meme brought up this little snippet:
In support of anti-child violence, change your Facebook profile picture to a cartoon from your childhood. Until Monday Dec. 6, there should be no human faces on Facebook, but an invasion of memories. Join the fight against CHILD ABUSE. Invite your friends to do the same.
Now I never use my profile picture as advertising space. So as much as I wanted to display a sweet image of Goliath for all my friends to gander, I ignored this meme as just another fad. This wasn’t the first time that Facebook users had attached en masse to a meme in a thinly veiled attempt at activism. Remember the bra color status updates?
In fact, soon enough, I saw friends speaking out against this new childhood revisitation indulgence as a form of slacktivism. Urban Dictionary, though seldom having any coherent definition, had this delightful definition:
The act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.
Though that was also my first reaction to this week’s Cause of the Month, I thought more closely about the intended purpose. I doubt that most of the people who participated really cared about child abuse. It’s just a fun way to identify yourself and continue oversharing. But even those who genuinely thought they were supporting some cause weren’t being entirely disingenuous. True, there are “real” ways to aid society. Sure, as a Wall Street Journal blog points out, you could donate time at an orphanage, participating in mentoring programs, or raise money for prenatal care. The pointed criticism is that changing your Facebook profile really does nothing for the cause.
However, if you take a step back and think about what is the effect of meme, you’ll see that it did easily accomplish one of the biggest hurdles facing any societal issues– it raised awareness. It got us talking about the issue. Just like the bra color status updates got the dialog going about breast cancer or changing your Twitter picture green to support Iranian democracy. Regardless of whether the actions have a tangible effect, raising awareness is the first step and shouldn’t be so easily overlooked. People can do more; they can always do more, but that doesn’t mean they should be belittled for the little they do. Just point them in the direction to do more.
The problem happens when people become too enamored with the awareness step and never move forward. But I doubt there’s much risk that people who truly care about child abuse issues would stop at a profile picture change. Even for those who don’t care at all, they became a part of a greater cause. I think that’s worth at least a digital thumbs up, because a real pat on the back would be too much effort.
*I’m aware that this meme may have nothing to do with raising awareness for child abuse and could’ve been added as an afterthought. That doesn’t change the analysis.