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: http://on.fb.me/e9bUVu
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: http://www.childrensdefense.org/
Child Welfare League of America: http://www.cwla.org/
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: http://www.ncadv.org/

 

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