You got your Activism in my Slacktivism… they’re BOTH delicious!
There was an event in social media back in 2010 that caught my eye and interest. You might remember it… there was a message propagated on Facebook suggesting that people “…change your Facebook profile picture to a cartoon from your childhood. The goal? To not see a human face on fb ’til Monday, December 6. Join the fight against child abuse, copy & paste to your status and invite your friends to do the same.”
Seemed like a good idea. I changed my profile pic to Speed Racer, then copied and pasted the status. A lot of my friends did as well, as did other people. Meanwhile, a mass of negativity was swelling.
This was the origin of the term “slacktivism,” and people became massively offended at the notion that changing one’s profile picture and pasting a copy of a status might actually do anything to help people. It was seen as a cop-out, even as a deterrent to actual activism. People went so far as to claim that giving people the opportunity to do something relatively simple, such as changing a profile picture and a status message, made it less likely that people would donate money to a cause, or do actual work for it.
People became SO incensed at the concept of “slacktivism” in this case that they began propagating a status that the whole “change your profile picture to protest child abuse” meme was an effort by pedophiles… a claim that was rapidly and completely disputed. Yes… someone became so angry about how some people chose to show support for this cause that they found it necessary to generate a vile lie about the effort.
Now, even at the time, I was puzzled by the whole “slacktivism” charge. To this day, I contend that it seems unlikely that a person who was already dedicated to taking some form of action for a cause, moneterily or in the form of personal effort, would think “I was going to donate some money and go down to a volunteer event, but now that I’ve changed my profile picture, I think I’ve done enough!” Frankly, if anyone DID think that, I don’t think I’d want them showing up to a volunteer event.
The often correct Snopes.com even weighed in on the subject, stating that “…real problems don’t dissapear as a consequence of acts of slacktivism; they’re fought through the mechanism of donation of time and/or money” (Barbara Mikelson, http://www.snopes.com/computer/internet/cartoon.asp). However, in the very same article, it was stated that the British charity known as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) appreciated the effort. The NSPCC tweeted that “although the NSPCC did not originate the childhood cartoon Facebook campaign, we welcome the attention it has it has brought to the work we do :)” (ibid).
Some people don’t put much faith in “awareness” campaigns… campaigns designed to raise public awareness about an issue. Most slacktivism campaigns tend to fall into the “awareness” category… “hey, here’s a problem that people need to know about. Do something that draws attention!” Granted, that alone is rarely enough to deal with a problem. However, the “mechanism of donation of time and/or money” requires that people be aware of the need for such donation. Without awareness, who knows that these difficulties require attention?
I had a long discussion with a good friend of mine (whom you may have seen as Twisted Joe in many of my blog’s “comments” sections) about this. We were both convinced of one fact- there must be a right way to do this thing.
Making people aware of a problem is one thing, and an important thing. But that awareness must come with a capacity for action. There needs to be not only a “here’s a problem,” but also a “here’s what you can do about it.”
So, we chose a difficulty… something fairly broad yet still meaningful; mental health. No, not just ’cause we’re generally kind of nuts, but because both of our lives have been deeply affected by mental illness in people we are close to.
I’ve done some research into organizations that work with mental health, who have opportunities for the community to assist at least in the form of donations. I’ve decided on Mental Health America. They’ve been working for over a century through advocacy, education, and programs to help those who suffer from mental illness. More, there doesn’t seem to be much (if any) negative reporting on them. It’s a legitimate charity for the chosen cause with opportunities to assist through donation.
Here is the status that I intend to put up on my social networking accounts as soon as I post up this blog. I encourage you to copy and paste it as well.
“I have changed my profile picture to something silver. Silver is the ribbon color for the awareness of problems with mental health. Millions of people are affected by mental illness, whether they suffer from it themselves, or suffer the agony of having someone close to them affected by it. The silver profile is to raise awareness of the difficulty, but it is not enough.
Mental Health America (http://www.nmha.org/) is an organization which has been working for over a century to help those affected by mental illness. Please visit http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/donate and give what you can, no matter how great or small. Every little bit helps them to work in advocacy, education, and with programs and services.
If you’d like to help to spread awareness of this issue, and the opportunity for action, please share this status. The farther this message reaches, the more people gain the opportunity to help with this devastating problem.”
The one thing missing from this model, so far, is feedback… it will be difficult to tell how much effect, if any, this message has. What I request is that those reading this blog comment on it (even a “hi” or an “ok”), and share it. That, and hopefully a propagation of the silver campaign, may be a good indicator of just how much good we can really do.
People have been saying that social networks can be a real power for advocacy and charity in today’s society, but whenever someone gives it a try, a chorus of voices rises to say “that doesn’t really work, you know.” Well, let’s make it work. I continue to contend that there is a right way to do this. One step at a time, let’s find it.