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.