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?