Facebook Memes and Armchair Activism


You’ve seen this meme going around Facebook, right? “Change your profile picture to a cartoon character and raise awareness of child abuse.”

As a marketing professional who specializes in social media, I should be fascinated by this. Thousands upon thousands of people engaging in this small act of internet solidarity. I could look at reasons why it spread so successfully (showing off your own “brand” of your favorite cartoon, nostalgia and making people feel good about themselves by supporting a cause), but instead of making me excited and intrigued, I’m just … annoyed. As usual, someone on the internet said it first (and better), so let me direct you to Kerry Scott of the Clue Wagon’s post about why it makes her want to poke her eyes out with a fork.

The whole thing just feels so disingenuous to me. Sure, I guess just talking about child abuse raises awareness, and maybe people may remember to look for the signs of abuse, or donate to a charity, or just remember that it’s still a problem. But I kinda doubt it. It just feels cheap. It’s kind of like when people were buying knockoff Livestrong bracelets. The money wasn’t going to cancer, but at least you got to be trendy! When my grandma started wearing a blue one that she bought off a sidewalk vendor, you knew it kind of jumped the shark.

And maybe that’s part of the problem with social media and armchair activism. Sure, there’s lots of incredibly genuine, wonderful people with great ideas and social media activism that’s getting stuff done. And to say that social media can’t have incredible success with a cause is just foolish. You can help get a president elected, or find a kidney and I’m curious to see how Jumo works–but stuff like the cartoon thing? It dilutes what I can consider to be some of the real power of this kind of connection. It cheapens it.

We can do better than this.

I’ve donated to the Family Violence Prevention Fund. Consider the same?


4 thoughts on “Facebook Memes and Armchair Activism

  1. Sarah

    This is exactly how I feel!! I think this is the first blog I will ever subscribe to, and I will follow your lead and make a donation to the Family Violence Prevention Fund… And then post it on Facebook!


    I didn’t join these fads or even “like” the causes sent to me not because I have no concern at supporting a noble cause at all. I am just as concern as the others but I suppose I’ve already had enough awareness so what I am working on now is how to make an action. I mean, we all knew all along about the existence of violence and diseases and all that, we heard the news about the death of a famous personality and I don’t mean we ignore all that feel good online activism campaigns. I say we support them not just by “liking” or following what the ad says but by making ourselves conscious enough to think about the real purpose of the exercise. It’s harmless and all too pointless but it does not mean it’s also useless. It may be useless for the people who dared accepted the word slack and admitted that we are indeed a lazy generation of activists. Awareness is the goal of all these profile-picture-changing-and-bra-color-status thing. And I say enough awareness was definitely achieved. More than the internet users who just went with the fad, there are, I suppose, as many individuals who are willing to participate in real life campaigns, people who wouldn’t be contented with the slacktivist option alone. Information dissemination done by rallyist is also the same information dissemination done by these groups of people we call slackers.
    These campaigns are satirical in all its pointless absurdities but when people respond to them correctly, they can learn a lot and awareness thus is achieved. Little awareness is better thsn no awareness at all and at least, some are really not that apathetic.

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