It’s Never Been Easier to Make a Difference

I made a YouTube video about this but Australia’s internet is powered by echidnas wiggling along an oversized hamster wheel and they just can’t go fast enough to handle that kind of upload. So, I’m forced to take the time to actually type out my words. Like these words. These words here.

Anyway, yes, I’m still in Australia and tomorrow I fly to New Zealand. But at the moment I’m relaxing on Mornington Peninsula in a beautiful bed and breakfast run by two generous skeptics, and I finally have time to catch up on what’s been going on in the world while I’ve been traveling.

And what’s been going on? Well, it turns out that the good people of Facebook-land have made the effort to defeat child abuse by replacing their profile pictures with images from cartoons. Um, okay guys good plan. I can’t possibly see how this plan will not work. Somewhere a father is raising his hand to beat his child when he decides to check on his Farmville first, and when he opens Facebook he sees Snarf from Thundercats and he thinks, “You know what? I think instead of beating my child I’ll take up knitting or maybe origami.” Mission accomplished, Facebook friend!

We’ve complained about this kind of slactivism before, when Facebook users decided to “raise awareness” of breast cancer by posting the color of their bras. All the same criticisms apply to this new child abuse crap, but I want to contrast the pointlessness of changing your profile picture to the simple fact that never in all of human history has it actually been easier to make a difference in the world than right now.

At TAM Oz last weekend in Sydney, I was on a panel about skepticism and activism. There were also some great activists in attendance, amongst whom I’d place Simon Singh (for his work to reform libel laws in the UK) and the Australian skeptics who are dedicated to stopping the anti-vaxx Australian Vaccination Network (AVN). The Aussie skeptics have had a huge impact, even managing to get the AVN’s charitable status revoked.

While at TAM, I spoke often about the Skepchicks’ incredibly quick response to the anti-vaxxers who wanted their misinformation PSA to run before movies after Thanksgiving. In just a few days, Elyse was able to confirm that AMC would not be running the ads.

How did we do it? We did it because “we” includes you: you, sitting in front of your computer reading this. Without even moving from your seat, you were able to contact AMC and let them know your concerns. You were able to tell them you’d boycott them if they ran the ads. You were able to re-Tweet our call for help (which got that Tweet on the front page of Twitter, by the way). You were able to alert Reddit and Digg. You were able to join several thousand people and together you stopped misinformation from spreading, possibly saving lives who would otherwise be lost when people do not vaccinate themselves and their children.

So, well done, you! You did all that without leaving your computer.

The ease with which we can do so much good makes it all the more baffling that people lazily resort to acts that have absolutely no impact except to make the person doing it feel as though he’s done his part.

UNICEF wants money? I don’t need to bother with that. I already put a picture of a Snork on Facebook.”

Look, I don’t care what picture you put up on your Facebook profile. But if you’re doing something in the name of a cause, take the extra 30 seconds to also do something worthwhile. Ginger P sent me this message:

Well yesterday when I saw the profile pic to help children I made sure to post a link to UNICEF. After hearing about your satirical post, I decided to re-post this with a message that says: “Don’t engage in mere feel good slacktivism. Change your profile to a children’s cartoon ONLY if you’ve made a donation to an organization that helps children or have *significantly* gone out of your way to help a child today. Copy and paste when you share this. Put your money where your status is. Pass it on. Inspire people to DO something REAL.”

These days, even donating money is easier than ever. Click a button on a site and instantly give them a boost. It’s not the least you can do, as Facebook users have demonstrated, but it’s worth doing just the same.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. I’m not familiar with this particular campaign, but I’ve heard these complaints about others before. My question is, why do you arrogantly assume that the people changing their avatars or participating in a particular meme *haven’t* also taken thos other steps you talk about? It’s been my experience that people generally consider it rude and obnoxious to brag about how much you’ve donated to various causes. Many of us who donate or do other things to support causes also like to do more visible and fun things to support our causes.

    Considering you’re part of an organization that has been repeatedly accused of promoting your cause of skepticism in the “wrong” way, I’m somewhat surprised that you would be so quick to denigrate the method that others choose to support their causes.

  2. I changed my picture but not because I think anything is going to change but because
    1.I still had my halloween picture up.
    2.I got nostalgic about my favorite cartoons

    Although I know of one jackass who donated money to show the “slacktivists” what real charity looks like. I found it ironic because if people didn’t change their picture he wouldn’t have donated. But as I said, I don’t think it’s going to change anything.

  3. There’s another way to end abuse that people just don’t do: call the police when you witness it.

    See video:

    For the record, when I have heard what sounded like abusive situations, I have called the police. I’ve called on my upstairs landlord when I heard a fight followed by a woman screaming. I called when I heard a baby crying in an adjoining apartment followed by severe thumping after which the baby was eerily silent. It’s an awful thing to have to do because it could be that you’ve misheard or it’s not what you think, but I call because nobody called for me when I needed it.

    Donate money to worthwhile causes, sure. But everyone also needs to stop being so timid and apathetic and turning a deaf ear to what is so clearly going on next door.

    Also: stop making excuses for parents you know who spank. Hitting is wrong. Don’t laugh nervously and turn away when you see a parent spank their kid at a playdate. Be the one to speak up and say, “Excuse me, but I’m teaching my child not to hit and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t undermine that by using violence yourself.” That way you’ve put it in the immediate context and they can’t argue that you should be teaching your child to hit, but you’ve also shone a spotlight on it and shamed the behaviour.

    Abuse only ends when there are consequences for the abuser. Make the consequences happen every time you can.

  4. @The Central Scrutinizer: Why does UNICEF hate *me*? (and my money?)

    Several years ago, early in the year (like January or February), I got a snail-mail solicitation from UNICEF and sent them a check. Later that year, I noticed they had never cashed the check. Got lost in the mail?
    The next year, I got another letter from UNICEF asking for another contribution, and I checked with my bank (online), saw the previous check still hadn’t been cashed, and sent them another check for double the amount. Six or seven months later, I got a phone call from someone raising money for UNICEF, and I checked and they still hadn’t cashed either of the prior two checks, so I discussed it with the guy on the phone, and we decided I would write them a THIRD check, and if they cashed it and the 2nd one, I would treat this as the next year’s contribution, and if they didn’t, I would treat it as the current year’s. Since they still haven’t cashed any of the checks, they must hate me, so I’m giving my donations to an org that will appreciate them. Mostly Oxfam. (All 3 checks were sent in postage-paid, pre-addressed envelopes they sent me, so they can’t blame my totally illegible handwriting or lack of a stamp.)

  5. Maybe if facebook said they’d donate 1$ to the relevant charity for each person who changes their profile picture?

    Taking in the way things stand at face value, I gotta agree with what she’s saying.

  6. Evil Robot Santa was already my FB profile pic when I saw this thing…then I complained about this “slactivism” and hurt some feelings. Then I decided to change my profile pic to Zummi Gummi of the Gummi Bears, just because someone forwarded me a YouTube video of that show’s opening credits in German. So, yeah, cartoon character profile pics are always for my own personal gratification. Abused kids will just have to settle for my tangible charitable donations.

  7. Well. I would like to thank you for this post. I had changed my profile pic, but hadn’t really thought about its effectiveness or lack thereof. Because of your post, Rebecca, I added the link to UNICEF and made a small donation.
    The negative comments above are puzzling. If changing a profile pic encourages one person to report child abuse or to ask for help–I say go for it.

  8. @Alexrkr7: Are you seriously calling someone a jackass because he donated money to an organization that helps abused children?
    @CyberLizard: Wrong, and so wrong I’m not sure where to start. The “campaign” doesn’t encourage any kind of donation (monetary or of time). It is solely about changing a picture on Facebook. This. Does. Nothing. And in fact, it’s a rather blatant way to use abused kids as a way to get your meme going. Bullshit.

  9. @Cyberlizard: I bet you’re one of the people who drove home on 9/11 with your headlights on, to “support” the WTC victims, aren’t you?

  10. Quite. I stirred some controversy within my family this year when I questioned the value of the 40 Hour Famine … this whole notion of giving up some of our western society’s luxuries for 40 hours helps the true poor in the third world exactly how?

    It’s not just food, although food was my first argument when my daughter declared that she was going to stop eating for 40 hours. It’s probably unhealthy for a kid to do that, and she doesn’t eat enough anyway.

    Then I checked the 40-hour famine website, to see if they had published any actual evidence that their project benefits truly poor people in the third world. Nowadays they have several alternate suggestions, like giving up ipods or video games or walking or not using furniture or, and this is the worst in my opinion, using a blindfold and being without sight for 40 hours. I think it’s not just ineffective but also dangerous.

    How again does stumbling around in a blindfold for 40 hours help poor people? I just think it’s akin to the self-flagellation which the former pope and Mother Theresa were known to perform.

    To help the poor effectively, do something more direct. Donate some money to a charity(*). Fly to Bangladesh and help build schools. Write blog articles about the situation of poor people in third world countries. Write about actual people, or write to them. Don’t give up your ipod.

  11. Batman the Animated Series. Why don’t more people choose it? That opening sequence. I hope you have a fantastic time in NZ, Rebecca! If I wasn’t so unemployed and unfond of the Backbencher I’d have been there with bells on.

    Do check out the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary if you get time while in Wellington. It’s a small claim to fame but: Our birds are awesome.

  12. Just as a question of clarification: do you denigrate World AIDS Day and Earth Day in the same manner? Sure, they’re designated days of awareness, but in the end it won’t change anything.

    I think we’re overstating the awareness the general public has of such issues. While that’s sad to say, it’s still a fact of reality. As I’ve told a friend who also denigrating the campaign, no one participating in this is under the delusion that merely changing their profile picture is going to end child abuse. It’s the beginning of a process. As CyberLizard has stated, it’s a bit presumptuous to assume that everyone participating in this isn’t doing anything else.

  13. As far as assuming people haven’t done anything, yes, I do believe most people didn’t do anything in addition to changing their pic. If it were about doing more, the status would link to a letter writing campaign or a charity, or information on what to do if you suspect child abuse. It says nothing of the sort.

    On the recent World AIDS day, people at my work tabled and gave out info, took donations, DID something. Likewise, Earth Day often inspires people to DO something. Our local zoo has dozens of educational tablings by various orgs on how to get involved to DO something. They give free admission to those who get there by bus, foot or bike.

    As for telling people you’ve done something, it inspires others. Just last night, a friend did a charitable act that made me self-aware, so I did it too. She wasn’t patting herself on the back, just mentioned it in passing. Remember those metal pins for United Way in elementary school? Peer pressure works.

  14. @broodyhumanist:

    I like this comment. It is measured and speaks to the issue.

    Jeezus Rebecca, what’s up your arse today.

    “…it’s a rather blatant way to use abused kids as a way to get your meme going. Bullshit.”


  15. I’m always pissed when something is done “to raise awareness” of an issue. Do we really need “awareness” that child abuse or breast cancer or alzheimer’s exist? Raise some money. That will raise awareness, and will be also have the added benefit of being helpful.

    “Change your picture for Lupus” or “Repost this if you support freedom for the Ood” are the equivalent of prayer. Doing nothing and feeling good about it.

    (That said, I did change my picture to Orko, but it was a protest of the Eternian monarchy, and not about child abuse)

  16. Ugh! So frustrating. On FB I posted 6 glorious full-color plates from a 1902 botany book. The first to show flowers in precise cross-section. Got ZERO response. Nobody cares.

    The next day I post a quick bit about women’s shelters and how the families there are often escaping violence. Donating to a local one does more good than flaunting your nostalgia. Masses of responses, mostly defensive. Awesome.

    Also, awareness of child abuse? Like there’s someone out there going “Beating children is wrong? Whoda thunk!?”

  17. So I’ve had to friend my husband’s various relatives to ensure family harmony (as it is, they see me as some form of alternate life-form since I don’t drink, don’t smoke and went to college – things that make them look at my husband like an alternate life-form, but at least they can fall back on childhood memories to talk to him). Hiding them results in all sorts of e-mail basically titled “didnt u c my post?”, so I just let their stuff fill my wall with their inane shit.

    Including this stupid cartoon character thing.

    One of them gave me crap with a wall post on why I hadn’t changed my profile picture – didn’t I KNOW it was IMPORTANT?!?!?!?!?!?!!?!?!?

    I sent a private reply – perhaps they’d already forgotten, but my current profile picture is actually a photo of my mother from when she was 18. It’s a great picture, and it’s my profile pic since she died 10 weeks ago, so I wasn’t ready to take it down.

    Besides, she’d had an abusive father so it was probably more relevant to have a photo of an actual survivor of child abuse who turned out to be a fabulous parent (and human being) than a cartoon character.

    Still haven’t gotten a reply, probably won’t get one.

  18. I do things of substance on a regular basis regarding child maltreatment. I often see those aware of issues like child abuse being the ones to give their time and money. Awareness if often what comes before actual involvement and donations; so changing my FB profile seemed like a fine thing. Most people say they care about child abuse, but my years of extensive involvement and work in the field of child maltreatment and community involvement has clearly shown me most people do jack shit in reality. So blah, blah, blah just a meaningless picture change is blah blah blah. Fine give some money, better still give some time and money, and I’m sure it’ll make a difference to some children in your community. People do not like talking about child abuse, and rarely do anything at all, so I’d call this little FB meme a great whopping success so far.

  19. Also there has been a substantial decrees in incidents of child sex abuse in the past 25 years. One of the main reasons for this great and wonderful news is education and public awareness among all those who can make a difference from parents, potential victims, teachers, medical professionals, and the public in general. So while I may not be all hip and FB-meme-internet cool and savvy, I can see that the notion making a statement as opposed to doing something makes you a slacker. But hey, when it comes to child abuse most of you/us are slackers.

  20. @Bookitty:

    Also, awareness of child abuse? Like there’s someone out there going “Beating children is wrong? Whoda thunk!?”

    Well, awareness of child abuse is perhaps not so much just informing people that it is a bad thing (although, clearly, some people do indeed need to be informed that it is a bad thing), but more an issue of getting the facts about child abuse out to as many people as physically possible that yes, abuse does happen, and yes, it may even be happening within the families of people you know or are even related to.

    So, in that regard, promoting awareness is always a good thing, I would think.

  21. @andiis: Seriously? Fuck off. Saying “don’t be a dick” is such a convenient way to shut people up, isn’t it? If reality — which includes the reality that “raising awareness” by providing zero information or call to action does absolutely nothing for anyone — hurts your feelings, grow up.

  22. @shanek: It was a subtle way of suggesting there are other avenues of channeling donations to help abused children beside UNICEF. I guess it was too subtle. I have no problem with the work UNICEF does. But I can’t help it very much if they won’t take my money! Oxfam (which I mentioned) and many other organizations do loads of work with hunger, disease, child labor (and what is essentially slavery), surviving child soldiers and many other forms of child abuse.

  23. I posted a status update that suggested people donate time and/or money to child abuse prevention rather than make light of it with cartoon characters. Most friends agreed, some argued with me that I was being “judgemental.” Yes, I was. I judge people when they say, “look at me, I’m helping!” without actually helping. Have I done anything to prevent child abuse? Maybe. I have reported some suspected abuse, and I have told teachers who were of the “saying something makes it worse” mindset that they are crazy and should report it. Did it change anything? I don’t know. But I do know that direct actions like that are potentially helpful, while changing your picture to a cartoon character is not likely going to do anything.

    Red ribbons, pink ribbons, yellow ribbons – most people know what those are for. Seeing a bunch of cartoon characters on Facebook is not an immediately recognizable sign of support or awareness. It’s confusing, and screams of “Look at me! I like Smurfs! Also, um… help children? I think?”

    After trying to calmly explain why I disagreed with the cartoon character mess, I kept getting hit with the “well, if it makes ONE PERSON think, it’s worth it.” Um… okay. But, you see, it’s just as easy to give MANY people a link. A suggestion. The knowledge that financial stress turns good parents into child abusers, and that psychological abuse is just as harmful as physical abuse. My initial status suggesting people do more than change their picture got a response. It started a dialogue. I didn’t see that happen on anyone’s “change your profile picture! LOL!” status.

    People know child abuse exists. They don’t want to talk about it, fine. Then start a dialogue. Don’t just change your picture and expect other people to start talking. You have to start the conversation.

    This is why this meme bothers me, because people are hoping to make OTHER people do something.

    I have since posted a link to Prevent Child Abuse America ( Report it, educate others, and start the conversation.

  24. I wonder if just posting the picture for nostalgia’s sake would have been wrong, as well.

    In any case, slacktivism does do harm where people who may have been motivated to actually contact people in authority or give money feel like they “contributed to the cause,” and leave it at that. I agree with that.

    But I felt like plenty of slacktivism happens in the skeptic community and even stemming from Skepchick, it’s not bad, it’s just not “as good.”

    Also, slacktivism does have it’s place in creating conversation. They may not deserve a great, big, shiny, do-gooder cookie, like the big money donator, or the pamphlet distributer, but they aren’t villains.

  25. Once again, perhaps because I too have dealt with the consequences of child abuse directly over the course of my career, I agree with James; but I too felt the inadequacy of cartooning alone. So, when I changed by Facebook pic to a cartoon, I then referenced sites that directly dealt with or educated the public about child abuse.
    Education. Education. Education.
    The precursor to effective action is education.

  26. I don’t know where that story about the Facebook comic pictures being about child pornography started, but it seems to me somebody duped the media with that one. I’ve seen a number of my Facebook friends repeating the “change your picture to a comic book character” meme, and not one of them mentioned child abuse, or anything like it. It was just a fun meme where people changed their picture to a comic book for a week. It had nothing to do with child abuse.

    The child abuse idea somehow started days after the comic picture meme had started, and then perhaps worked its way back onto Facebook as well, although I saw nothing about it on Facebook itself.

    Other than that, I agree with Rebecca’s post. If you really want to fight child abuse, changing your Facebook picture is the least you can do. Literally. Because you can’t do anything that is worth even less.

  27. You’re absolutely right, Rebecca. About the emptiness of the gestures on Facebook, the ease at which people can make a difference (although how much difference one can make through donations is another matter that’s quite complex), and of course the Australian internet. It’s terrible, isn’t it? But don’t worry, the government has a super-secret business plan to get us fiber optic!

  28. @Rebecca Watson:

    ” DON”T BE A DICK ” was the title YOU used @ La Notte the other day for people who deliberately offend others by attacking the way they see things. If it offends you then don’t use it. It’s a through-away line .. jeeezus.

    And telling me to grow up when you have no idea what I have seen or done will not shut me up.. Lots of us “get off our lazy cans and do something”. So don’t presume to knowledge you don’t have.

    I repeat, jeeeezus!!

  29. @“Other” Amanda:

    There has never been more discussion on fb regarding the topic of child abuse than since the profile pics were changed to cartoon characters.

    Today I tried to find out how much more money was donated and phone calls made to Child Abuse orginizations in Australia as a result of this simple action. Tomorrow Tues 9th I should know.

    Any one else want to bother to find out ?

  30. Is it possible that people who give money and donate time also changed their picture to a cartoon? Pink ribbons and yellow bracelets are also stupid, but they make people feel good; so lighten up people!

  31. As I understand it, the original Facebook postings were to just to post a favorite cartoon figure on your Facebook account for fun and nostalgia.

    Somewhere along the line, someone added the “Child Abuse Awareness” connection, and someone else added the “It’s Child Porngraphers!!” connection. In other words, it evolved under some not terribly intelligent design.

    I participated under the original message, not under the others that came later. Apparently, this happens a lot of Facebook…Someone starts something fun and it’s “hijacked” by one or more people for pet causes or to spread BS. This happens all the time on Facebook.

    Child abuse is a terrible thing. I think we can all agree on that.

    @Bookitty: I didn’t see your pictures, so we must not be linked on FB.

  32. @Rebecca Watson:

    I was there, and sat thru Brian’s presentation of some fake miracle involving the dark skinned Mary of Guadalupe. Quite interesting .

    Then you spoke of not being a dick when prostheletizing skepticism. A good talk and funny vid clips to go with.

    So what’s with all the sarcasm ? Does that work for you ? Do you win debates with it ?

    Screw you guys…I’m goin home.

  33. Despite the rumors, the “meme” was started by a decent campaign that set out to do exactly what you describe, and it even makes the same point on the page, providing a list of sites to which help can be directed.

    Having said that, this is a bit of a pointless criticism and a tired blog post genre. It’s so easy to rip on some social phenomenon that happened naturally – *cough*Boobquake*cough* – It’s never going to be perfect. And I agree that those simply changing their profile pic, accomplish nothing.

    But you make it sound like this somehow HURTS the cause, which it does not. Those who weren’t planning on lifting a finger to do anything real, still didn’t. But the efforts of those who genuinely fight to reduce child abuse were not diminished by the meme in any way. And it’s CONCEIVABLE the meme did bring the issue far enough into the consciousness of at least a handful of people to move them to do more.

  34. @Lukas:
    I don’t know where that story about the Facebook comic pictures being about child pornography started, but it seems to me somebody duped the media with that one. I’ve seen a number of my Facebook friends repeating the “change your picture to a comic book character” meme, and not one of them mentioned child abuse, or anything like it. It was just a fun meme where people changed their picture to a comic book for a week. It had nothing to do with child abuse.

    Umm, yes, indeed, it was someone saying “hey, for old times sake, let’s change our profile pictures to our favorite childhood cartoon for a week some time late November.” That was two weeks ago, and I already changed mine back.

    I’m not sure who hijacked the idea in an attempt to make it meaningful without really doing jack shit, but that’s what happened I suppose.

  35. I changed mine, but I had no idea there was a “cause” is was supporting. The story I got was that it was just a “neat thing”.

  36. @Rebecca Watson: Sorry for the late reply; I was driving home from Atlanta last night and didn’t have a chance to respond. As I clearly stated, I’m not familiar with this particular campaign and have no information as to its origin or purpose. However since you decided to bring in all similar campaigns, I felt it appropriate to respond to the general sentiment.

    For someone who holds themselves up as a skeptic, it’s surprising that you provide absolutely no evidence to back up your assertion that the people who participate in similar campaigns are doing so in lieu of more substantial contributions. You talk about several internet campaigns that have resulted in definable action as a result of user participation, but you present nothing to suggest that user participation in other forms of awareness raising has done nothing of substance.

    Since we’re throwing out personal opinions and anecdotes, I’ll toss in my $0.02. I’ve seen very positive response from one avatar-changing campaign that I’ve participated in. I’ve seen first-hand thousands of dollars raised for the cause as well as numerous media articles, not to mention the hundreds of supportive messages from people actually suffering from the disease. And purely anecdotally, people have indicated that they have actually had the issue brought to their attention because of the campaign and have been encouraged to take medical steps that, arguably, have saved their life. So given the evidence that I have seen, I’m reluctant to condemn all such efforts as pointless.

    @The Central Scrutinizer: Sorry to disappoint, but no, I didn’t participate in that.

  37. Sorry, you facebook meme deniers are wrong.
    I know of at least 6 people that have donated to charities because of this meme. It seems to be working. Perhaps someone could talk to some charities and find out if there has been a spike in donations?

  38. When this meme first showed up I felt it was another empty gesture that was started so that someone could say “look at the meme I started” and the participants could feel better about them selves without actually doing anything.

    And yes it’s just a meme, because as others have already pointed out this did not start with any posts directing people to where they could act.

    I’m sorry but you don’t get credit for putting a cute picture up. Maybe I’m overly sensitive because I was the victim of child abuse. I consider myself lucky it was one incident, and the person responsible was held responsible. But it irked me to think that people changed their picture and thought “well that ought to do it.”

  39. @emkane

    Pink ribbons and yellow bracelets are also stupid, but they make people feel good; so lighten up people!

    Right, and no harm done. Except…..

    When there is harm done. As you said people use these gestures to make themselves feel good. Unfortunately for a good many it stops there, at the gesture.
    As @DiscordianStooge pointed out, that is the equivalent to prayer, an empty action that may well preempt an actually useful action.

    There are a lot of causes out there, many of them are worthy, and to get the help of the most people you need to get there attention. This kind of meme does that, true, but then what? Not to speak for Rebecca but what I think she was getting at was not that this sort of thing is necessarily useless, just that it needs to be more than the original gesture. A link to information, or to a charity, or a heartfelt appeal for people to help and what they can do.

    The meme is just a means to an end but will get you no closer, and may move you farther away, if it is not accompanied by more. If people feel better about a situation they are far less likely to actually help. So yes, harm can be done by such a “harmless” gesture even if it is not the purpose. This is not a judgment, just a reminder of unintended consequences.

    @Rebecca Watson
    I think you may be reading too much motive into the actions of those involve. I doubt many realize that this can do more harm than good. People believe that “raising awareness” is the end of the journey and not the beginning. We need to educate those who think that not assign ulterior motives to them.
    I realize some many indeed be that callous, I just don’t think most are. I could be wrong.

  40. @CyberLizard: You say: As I clearly stated, I’m not familiar with this particular campaign and have no information as to its origin or purpose. However since you decided to bring in all similar campaigns, I felt it appropriate to respond to the general sentiment. Where does Rebecca bring in all similar campaigns? She brings in 1 similar campaign, the bra color one, which seems to be equally vacuous. Then she mentions many other campaigns which were done in effective ways. She concludes with a couple of links to organizations that appear to actually be doing something about the problem.

    Are you anything more than a concern troll?

  41. Just as I ranted about this myself (, a friend of mine updated twitter with your post about the anti-vac antics, which led me here. i’m so glad i’m not alone in finding this whole thing utterly preposterous!

  42. A friend of mine just posted this on her FB Status: “Erectile dysfunction is a serious issue facing millions of men. Show them your support and help, erm, raise awareness by changing your profile pic to a photo of your wang, and together we can stop erectile dysfunction!”

  43. @Buzz Parsec: I am indeed more than a concern troll and I’m sorry you see me that way. I may have interpreted Rebecca’s post more broadly than it was intended; having heard her arguments about previous campaigns and the discussions in general surrounding them, I may have broadened the discussion more than it needed to be.

    If the argument is being made that merely changing one’s avatar without providing links or other ways to support a cause is a poor method of getting attention, then I agree. However the evidence I have seen suggests that such a campaign can be a successful method to bring in donors, primarily by the participants also including relevant links in conjunction with the more fun and visible act of changing their avatar.

    More to the point of the specific post, I have seen no evidence, nor has Rebecca provided any, that someone who might be inclined to donate money (or time or effort) to a given cause has rather decided to just change their profile picture and called it a day.

  44. I think those who say the meme has prompted people to donate or that most people don’t think changing their picture alone will make a difference might be overestimating the population of Facebook.

    I do agree that this ‘campaign’ seems to have generated a lot of chatter about children’s charities (which can only be good), probably because of the scale of uptake, but I think other similar memes have just been kind of spammy. I have a few friends on Facebook who are always reposting similar stuff.

    One of them posted about changing your profile pic the other day, then changed it back and posted this – ‘ATTENTION:the group asking everyone to change their profile picture to a cartoon character is actually a group of pedophiles. Their doing it bacause kids will accept their friend request faster if they see a cartoon picture. It has nothing to do with any child charities. ITS ON TONIGHTS NEWS……’

    By the time I saw this post, someone else had already commented something along the lines of ‘Well that makes no sense’ and she had replied ‘It’s on the NEWS, *person’s name*!’

    I knew there had been no mention of the meme on Irish or British news, so I did a quick search, sent her a couple of links, and asked her if she had seen it on the news herself, as I thought she might have been misled. No reply.

    Today she’s posted a message supposedly from the NSPCC, saying they did not start the campaign but are grateful for everyone’s support, and a video from a regional US TV news show about the meme. And her profile pic is a cartoon again. At no stage did she mention donating to a charity, and she deleted my comment from her wall without replying.

    Clearly she’s learned nothing about taking the internet’s word for something, and she seems to think she’s helping charities in some way. I know this is just one example, but I suspect there are many people with a similar outlook.

    By the way, are saying the meme originated in Greece, and for about a week had nothing to do with any campaign, violence against children or otherwise. Would love to know how it made the leap from one to the other.

  45. Well if it’s any consolation, Snopes agrees with you:

    Whether the “cartoon characters” meme began as a group participation lark (akin to seeing how many college students can be stuffed into a Volkswagen), as a way of waxing nostalgic about one’s younger days, or as a genuine effort to raise awareness about children’s issues, those truly interested in striking a blow against child abuse need do far more than just swap their profile picture for one of Scooby Doo. Real problems don’t disappear as a consequence of acts of slacktivism; they’re fought through the mechanism of donation of time and/or money. The character one needs display to the world is not that of a cartoon, but of a benefactor.

  46. Thanks for posting this. I also had a few minor disputes on Facebook over this. I see no logical connection between the cartoon pictures and child abuse, but some people seemed irritated and offended by my questioning of the meme’s effectivenes. As a child abuse survivor, I’m the one who should be offended by their suggestions that I’m not “aware” enough of the issue.

    I’ve written a blog post to that effect:

  47. @Rebecca Watson:

    this does nothing?

    how silly, on contrary, i’ve seen more then one and more then two comments on facebook where people are in fact saying just what you’re saying, that this fiasco has no effect and if they wanted to help, donate money to some organization that does in fact help make a difference, and that they’ve done just that.

    now, would you think these people and the silent few that hadn’t publicly announced their philanthropy on facebook, would have donated that money if this “does nothing” “campaign” on facebook hadn’t taken place.

    i think not. so … THERE and :P and stuff :)

  48. I vaguely remembered someone telling me to use a cartoon character for a facebook profile photo for some reason. I wasn’t paying much attention. I grabbed a very nice XKCD stick figure, which doesn’t exactly qualify for childhood cartoons. I suppose I’ll have to go beat my kids now. Or maybe I could just wait until XKCD profile photos qualify for another cause, such as Save the Pterodactyls.

  49. Well, I meant to reply to this earlier, but I was busy fighting a very important battle. So, a few days late and probably more than a few pennies short, but here are my two cents anyway…

    As a child, I suffered every kind of abuse there is – literally. I could go into details, but let’s just say that I know what growing up in a war zone feels like. Most of it was quite public. On one memorable occasion, when I was about 6, my mother slammed my head repeatedly against a wall (3 feet thick of solid granite) just outside our house. It dented my skull. My father watched, the neighbors watched, nobody did a thing. I was slapped around in public all the time. So much so that it continued at school. Everyone knew that I was an easy target. Nobody cared enough about me to come to my defense, I was not strong enough to fight back, and I was too busy surviving to do anything else. I was kicked around, pushed around, bullied in every conceivable way, right in the open. Nobody ever did anything to stop it, or even to let me know that I wasn’t crazy to think there was something very wrong in this situation. Every day the message was brought to me that I was my parents’ property. They could do whatever they wanted with me, and if they didn’t object to what was going on at school, then it was nobody else’s place to.
    Here I am now, all the way across the world, where everywhere we hear about bullying and how to fight it. Where all kinds of organizations campaign to protect children from abuse. Yet, I have met a young man who was punched around in the elementary school’s principal’s office (his mother’s idea of discipline apparently), and went home with his mother afterwards. More recently, when I heard some very loud screaming from next door and commented that if I hadn’t know what was going on (a child with a disability often has tantrums for no particular reason) I would have called the police, I was met with horror that I would contemplate calling the police to investigate very loud and sharp screeming coming from next door because “it is none of my business”.

    The big problem in this fight is not that people aren’t willing to give money to the organizations, or that people aren’t willing to send letters and start campaigns. It isn’t even that people think that changing their icon on FB is all they need to do to make a difference. I have had discussions with those who posted and changed their picture, and not one of them thought that was enough. The problem is, that in their everyday lives, at home, people are too busy to give a crap about other people’s children. That too many people still believe it is none of their business. That too many people still see children as property.

    So when I see the cartoon characters (and yes, I changed mine, and provided a link to an organization that helps children) I see people who are willing to give a crap. Maybe they’re not all willing to actually do something about it yet. But flaming them for showing an interest isn’t doing abused children any favors. They say a long journey begins with a single step. Maybe for a great many people this was that first step. Our job now is to keep them moving in the right direction, not slam them into retreating.

    I know my childhood would have been much easier if anyone at all had showed me that they gave a crap.

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