There is no denying the impact that our social media rich environment has on us, or can have on us, but I’ve noticed something recently that I find quite intriguing. Apparent adult males that I know grew some of the most horrific looking moustaches that I’ve ever seen (and yes, I get the irony in that statement) outside of the police force or 70s porn. It was after all Movember and time to raise awareness for prostate something or other. Over the past few weeks on Facebook, our friends have been advising us to “Change your Facebook profile picture to a cartoon from your childhood and invite your friends to do the same. Until Monday (Dec.6) there should be no human faces on Facebook, but an invasion of memories. This is for violence against children ” or some other reasonable facsimile. As such, slowly at first but then rapidly gaining momentum, almost all of the profile pictures on your news feed are Popeye, or He-man, or Darkwing Duck or My Little Pony. In the case of a few very adventurous (or twisted) individuals, the occasional picture of Homer choking Bart, Family Guy’s Herbert or famed Internet meme Pedobear (it is supposed to be about violence against children after all. Google them if you’re unsure). So what of all this? Does it make a difference? Does it raise awareness?
I suppose in the strictest sense, it makes you think for a brief second about the topic while you read the original request to change your photo, but I really don’t think it is given more than a passing thought and would be surprised if many took it further than changing their profile pic. Still though, no harm no foul, right?
I think there is the potential for something negative to emerge from this, and other like appeals. It is here that I wish I could lay claim to this term but I confess, I can’t. I read it on twitter yesterday but it seemingly encapsulates the ideals I am talking about: Slacktivism! Think of it as slacker activism. While we generally conceive of activists as people who get out and protest, who get out and, whether we agree with their agendas or not, try to disrupt in order to question or change the status quo, slacktivists have no such requirement and therein lies the problem.
Is violence against children a social problem? Of course, I can’t imagine anyone that would argue against that notion. Should we be doing something about it? If we want it to get better then we have to. This can range from writing a letter (or email) to your MLA or MP questioning current policy or funding of anti-child violence campaigns, or donating money to groups or projects that fight this at the ground level by providing safe havens or other assistance when needed. The problem as I see it as that we give ourselves a false sense of accomplishment when we change our Facebook profile. We grow a stache, laugh with our friends and family at how stupid we look and pride ourselves on our awareness to issues. We’ve done absolutely nothing to truly help the problem at hand but have created a smug sense of “I’m a socially conscious person”. Since we already feel like we’ve met the requirement for activism by telling ourselves we’ve raised awareness to an evil, evil thing, our work here is done and we dust off our not too dusty hands. Since we’re done, we can now concentrate on the things that really matter like hockey and Dexter (and don’t get me wrong at all, those two things do matter) but have we really done anything at all other than tell everyone else what our cartoon era was? Slacktivism provides a false sense of accomplishment that obfuscates the continued existence of the problem while relieving our guilt about it. Grow your moustache and change your profile picture, but don’t leave it there. Get out of your computer chair and hit the streets. Slacktivism is quaint and entertaining but activism can change the world.