Why changing your Facebook profile picture achieves little

Posted on Monday, December 6th 2010 at 12:16 p.m.

 

A meme has been spreading across Facebook recently exhorting people to change their Facebook profile picture to that of a cartoon character. The purpose:

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.

Over the past week I’ve seen numerous profile pictures changing across Facebook to the point where about half of my feed now has cartoon characters in it. Then one of my friends commented about while raising awareness is a good thing, taking action is even better, and posted a link to the Child Abuse Prevention Association. I immediately donated to the organization, because I agreed that taking action was important, and the act of changing my profile picture would do little to convince my Facebook friends to do anything about preventing child abuse or helping its victims.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote about internet activism in the New Yorker recently, comparing it with the lunch counter sit-ins conducted in the 1960’s as part of the civil rights movement:

… it doesn’t involve financial or personal risk; it doesn’t mean spending a summer being chased by armed men in pickup trucks. It doesn’t require that you confront socially entrenched norms and practices. In fact, it’s the kind of commitment that will bring only social acknowledgment and praise.

Essentially what Gladwell says is that people mentally check the box beside the cause and then move on, not to think about it again.

Anil Dash wrote a response , stating that in our current age change comes in much subtler ways, and highlights how the spread of knowledge via the internet is encouraging people to change themselves through such activities as learning how to make things that they previously bought.

Ultimately the question is - how much good is achieved simply through the raising of awareness? Do football players wearing pink in October actually help increase donations for breast cancer research? Do yellow “Support the Troops” stickers on cars result in more support provided to returning soldiers or their support organizations? One of the things I like to do at the end of October and beginning of November is to wear a poppy to commemorate the Canadian war dead. Everyone in Canada does it, but does it achieve anything?

The answer in my mind is that awareness is not enough, but it must be followed up by action. I would rather us be less aware of issues and more engaged; instead of casting a wide, shallow net, let’s dive deep and actually contribute some real change.

 

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