Slacktivists Unite: Does Your Facebook Profile Picture Matter?

So, many of my Facebook friends have taken up the call to raise awareness about domestic violence against children by replacing their profile picture with an image of their favorite cartoon character from childhood. This act is supposed to evoke the childhood memories lost by child victims of domestic violence. It is a noble cause and should be supported.

However, my twitter stream has shown that some recognize a problem with this type of social activism via the weak ties social network that is Facebook. It is one thing to agree with the message of a cause, and spend ten seconds changing your profile picture or status message. However, it is entirely another thing to feel incentivized to donate time or money, or even take bigger risks for the sake of a worthy cause. Here are some examples of tweets pointing to this:

@BookishJulia Julia Skinner
Not changing my FB picture. Raising awareness is only helpful if it transfers to meaningful action, rather than an excuse for inaction.
@pnkrcklibrarian Punk.Rock.Librarian. [Lisa Rabey]
Just posted on FB why I think the change your profile pic is dumb. How many guesses how many people will de-friend with that statement?
Both tweets got a lot of responses. Lisa Rabey elaborates in the following exchange with Ian Clark:
LR: @ijclark ANd I get irritated when people “support” a cause but don’t acutally do anything to SUPPORT a cause. Also:
LR: @ijclark Because most, actually a lot, assume profile->cartoon pic swap “teehee let’s remember childhood” not “swap to stop child abuse!”
IC: @pnkrcklibrarian I’m right with you there….changing your photo isn’t on its own going to achieve anything. At least if they donate as well
I was discussing this topic with friends last night, and it put me in mind of a couple of articles that I’ve read recently: The first, Small Change: Why the Revolution will not be Tweeted, by Malcolm Gladwell, compares strong ties social network triggered activism like that seen in the 1960s civil rights era with that of weak ties social network triggered activism on Facebook and Twitter; and the second, How to: Turn Slacktivists into Activists with Social Media, by Geoff Livingston, is about taking “slacktivism” and transforming it into activism.
The worry seems to be that people who engage in slacktivist tactics will believe they are doing enough just by changing their profile picture or status. And there is undoubtedly truth to that. Although not based on research, and only an observation, it is completely possible that the idea young people have of what activism is and can be, what it can achieve, has changed.
I think what is important to remember is that not everybody is an activist, and not everybody who is an activist is an activist for all causes. However, this does not mean that massive low level engagement, or “slacktivism” won’t spread the word and trigger a few people who are more engaged with an issue to a higher level of activism, or at least spark a conversation (this instance on Facebook with cartoon profile pictures certainly has triggered a conversation on Twitter, although it isn’t a conversation about child abuse or domestic violence). Still, might not this be worth it, if one person more is inspired to act?
So, what can you do? Visit one of the following websites, and learn about domestic violence against children. Contribute your time and energy to the cause. Or, if all you can manage is a tweet or status update, let others know where they can go to make a real difference.
Children’s Defense Fund:
Child Welfare League of America:
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:



5 thoughts on “Slacktivists Unite: Does Your Facebook Profile Picture Matter?

  1. I think the key to internet activism is those “text HELP to ##### to donate $10” messages. If this was a sponsored campaign, I would hope that they would add one of those thingies to it because I think there is a lot of potential with that method to raise a lot of money. I’m likely to stop mid-fb and txt those numbers… not so likely to click on a link to a website and go find my credit card in my other pants and all that.
    I’m also glad to add the word slacktivism to my vocabulary!

    • Excellent example Susan. I myself have used that texting feature more than once for causes such as Earthquake relief for Haiti and others.
      And the word “slacktivism” is a good one, I agree. Wish I’d thought of it!

  2. Nicely put. I, as well, hope that this latest viral slactivist wave will translate into some kind of meaningful action. I had a tangent thought on this particualr campaign the other night when I realized there is a second level of activism going on here, albeit purely unintentional and unconcious by most users on FB (can you have unintentional activism?). That has to do with copyright. Each image change seems to me to be a violation of coypright, and this particular campaign may be the largest mass usupring of copyright I have seen. Like I said, tangental, but something I found interesting and I wonder how many people realize this.

    • Clint-
      You must be a man after my own heart. I was thinking about the copyright issue as well, but thought it would detract from the child abuse issue so didn’t address it above. I wondered specifically what Marvel, Hanna-Barbera, etc. thought about the use of their characters as part of the slacktivist movement. Clearly, users of Facebook have no qualms about using someone else’s intellectual property, and as you suggest this itself may be unintentional activism (although I don’t think this is really possible, if one isn’t aware, so a better term might be unintentional subversion), in that it undermines intellectual property law. It seems like a cease and desist letter from rights holders in a case like this would be in poor taste, what with the cause du jour being temporary and adding a moral imperative to the illegal use of the images. However, might not that be side stepped with a huge donation from Marvel or whoever? It actually would be nice if these rights holders were to get involved and donate.
      Thanks for the post, Clint!

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention Slacktivists Unite: Does Your Facebook Profile Picture Matter? « LIS Lady --

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