Sunday, December 5, 2010

Facebook Slacktivism

For the past few weeks, the latest fad on Facebook has been the following:
Change your Facebook profile picture to a cartoon from your childhood! The goal is to not see a human face on Facebook till Monday, December 6th. JOIN THE FIGHT AGAINST CHILD ABUSE! Copy & paste this message to your status to invite all your friends to do the same.
My wife and I have indeed changed our respective profile pictures (I'm now Brain from Pinky and the Brain), but we didn't repeat the above message, nor did we change our pictures for the above reason.

Why didn't we "JOIN THE FIGHT AGAINST CHILD ABUSE" as we were exhorted? The answer is simple; changing our profile pictures will do absolutely nothing about child abuse. Several of my Facebook friends have asked what good this trend will do, to which I've responded:
The wife and I adopted cartoon characters because it's fun, not because of the fantasy that it will actually do any good. I sometimes think that such efforts may actually do harm because they fool people into thinking they're doing some good while nothing is actually accomplished.

It's like the pink ribbon campaign; you can wear a pink ribbon all you want, but unless you're contributing to a cure for breast cancer (whether as a researcher or through donations) you're feeling good for doing essentially nothing.

The ever-popular "awareness" meme is bunk since people are usually already aware of whatever problem we're being made "aware" of.
I've always been annoyed by those self-righteous individuals who go around "raising awareness" about some cause or another. Yes, I am aware of [insert cause here] and if I a) agreed with you, b) cared enough, and c) had the ability to change it I would do something about it. But you go ahead and make yourself feel good by performing the social equivalent of using a bucket to bail out the Titanic or trying to pay down the national debt with your pocket change.

This do-nothing form of problem solving has been going on for some time now. It's even been given a name: slacktivism. Wikipedia defines slacktivism as "a pejorative term that describes 'feel-good' measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. The acts also tend to dilute awareness campaigns and require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist."

Wikipedia also gives examples of this practice, one of which is exactly what's happening on Facebook right now:
Examples of activities labeled as "slacktivist" include signing internet petitions, the wearing of awareness ribbons or awareness bracelets with political messages, putting a ribbon magnet on a vehicle, joining a Facebook group, posting issue-oriented YouTube videos, altering one's personal data or avatar on social network services, or taking part in short-term boycotts such as Buy Nothing Day or Earth Hour.
The excellent urban legend busting site specifically addresses Internet petitions as a form of slacktivism:
E-petitions are the latest manifestation of slacktivism, the search for the ultimate feel-good that derives from having come to society's rescue without having had to actually get one's hands dirty or open one's wallet. It's slacktivism that prompts us to forward appeals for business cards on behalf of a dying child intent upon having his name recorded in the Guinness World Book of Records or exhortations to others to continue circulating a particular e-mail because some big company has supposedly promised that every forward will generate monies for the care of a particular dying child. Likewise, it's slacktivism that promps us to want to join a boycott of designated gas companies or eschew buying gasoline on a particular day rather than reduce our personal consumption of fossil fuels by driving less and taking the bus more often.
In short, if you want to do something about child abuse, keep an eye out for the signs and symptoms in your neighborhood and avoid risky situations such as having a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend (who are statistically more likely to be the abuser). And if you have a Facebook account, go ahead and change your avatar, but do it because it's fun and not because you think you're actually doing something useful.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed. And that's part of the reason why I'm not changing my profile picture. That and laziness. :)



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