It started back in October, when countless facebook friends started posting updates that read “I like it on the floor” or “I like it in the kitchen” in order to, apparently or not so apparently, raise awareness of breast cancer. It reached a fever pitch this afternoon, when I began receiving feedback from a slightly drunken status update last night about how changing one’s profile picture to a photo of a childhood cartoon was not going to help any abused children in any way. It started as an annoyance and a mere cause for eye rolling. Now, it has reached a fever pitch of anger.
It is the time to call “bullshit” on facebook awareness campaigns.
I know it may seem a little cynical to state this, but awareness campaigns in general, and facebook awareness campaigns specifically, are utterly useless ways to waste time and energy. This should not be surprising to anyone, as facebook itself is just that; a time waster. Now, don’t get me wrong, I see no problem with wasting time. I don’t even see a problem with people changing their photos because they wish they were She-Ra or Rainbow Brite. However, my problem comes from the fact that these campaigns are so often held up as examples of activism when they are not at all effective and really have no purpose beyond making the person who participates feel as though they’ve done something to affect a positive change.
Awareness campaigns in general tend be pretty bad at doing anything other than make people smug, You see, in order to believe that an awareness campaign will really change anything, you have to truly believe that the issue for which you are attempting to raise awareness is one which no one is aware of already. For example, let’s take the aforementioned child abuse campaign. How many people out there are really and truly unaware that child abuse exists? Assuming there are such people in existence at all, how likely would it be that they would be capable of using a computer or understanding the complexities of an in joke? Even if they could, they’d have to search long and hard to figure out what this one is all about, as most users are just changing their profile pics without a word of explanation. Starting a campaign which is predicated upon the assumption that people are unaware of something which has become a facebook meme is pretty silly if you think about it. The same goes with awareness campaigns which utilize real world tactics such as buying and displaying ribbons or wearing a specific color. All they do is let people know that the wearer or picture changer has spent some time and/or money on something which will allow them to tell the world that they care about something that everyone else cares about, only they care enough to buy something or google a cartoon image.
It is this positioning of participants in such campaigns as do gooders or world changers that pisses me off more than anything.
The fact is that changing anything, be it the rates at which we find cancer cures and causes, the amount of children who are abused, or the amount of AIDS patients who receive good care takes sacrifice and effort. This is why most people prefer to participate in a facebook campaign or purchase a pink ribbon or buy a red shirt from the GAP. These actions are easy, painless, and still allow people to feel like they’ve done something good.
Only, they haven’t.
In some cases, they may have even caused more harm than good. For instance, any cancer awareness campaign which uses plastic trinkets to send a message is using a material which introduces known carcinogens into the environment. How, exactly, is that helpful in curing cancer? Buying clothing form the Gap supports an economic system which exploits and damages countries, such as Africa, where the need for AIDS intervention is greatest. This is improving lives how? Finally, sitting in front of your computer and searching for cartoon photos keeps you detached and removed from the hundreds of ways you can make a difference in the life of a child in need or in the life of a cancer or AIDS sufferer. It not only helps nothing, but it allows you to feel as though you have accomplished something when, in fact you’ve not done anything more than make yourself feel warm and fuzzy.
Now, here’s where it gets tricky for me. I have no problem with people wasting time and making themselves feel good. In fact, as a blogger, it’s in my best interest that people do waste time on the internet. However, it is not ok to dress this time wasting up as change. I truly believe that most people do not intentionally do this. I think that most people want to help affect change. However, I think that most people are truly unaware of how much effort it actually takes to do so, and do not like anything that involves a large amount of personal sacrifice. The fact is that, sadly, that is exactly what affecting change may take.
One person is not likely to rid the world of all its ills and suffering. However, one person can choose one or two areas in which to direct their energy and time and begin to make a small change. One of the argumentative responses I received to my status regarding the child abuse campaign stated that while changing photos would not end all child abuse everywhere, neither would my suggested actions of intervention, volunteerism, real education and actual advocacy. It’s true. Doing any or all of those things will not end violence against children. However, unlike the facebook campaign, it can help to free one or more children from the horrors of abuse, or prevent them from facing it in the first place. Isn’t that the kind of change we can quantify? Isn’t that exactly what we want to do?
So, let’s do it.
Let’s walk away from the silliness of facebook campaigns and find a cause we believe in and actually do something for it.
_Shannon (who will smack a bitch who smacks a kid in front of her)