In todays modern world of social media portals, it is easy as ever, to throw your weight behind the cause of your choice. Now a days you do not need to wear an arm full of colorful plastic wristbands to show where your allegiances lie, you can do so with social media.
You can Like, Follow and and Subscribe to the various organizations that are affiliated to any and every cause that you can think of being associated with. And unlike with the wristbands, you can actually interact with the organizations. You can share your stories and opinions, talk to like minded folks, and even easily organize meet ups with like minded people close to you. The possibilities opened up by new social media platforms are huge, and can be of major benefit to many causes.
And then there are viral “awareness” campaigns. One of the most well known examples that I can think of is “Movember”.
During the month of November, men are supposed to keep growing out their mustache, as a way to spread awareness of prostate cancer. And a by-product of that is supposed to be, donations made to the various charities that fund the research of the said cancer (prostate).
But there, in lies the problem.
What got me writing this piece, was a small editorial in a local paper from a week or so ago. The article was about the effectiveness of social media “awareness” campaigns. The writer questioned the effectiveness of the campaign(s) ability to actually HELP the causes they were bringing awareness to, despite their often viral and wide spread nature.
They did small bit of research on this, using their pool of friends who were participating in the “Movember” campaign. They found that even though 10 0r 15 were participating (maybe even as many as 20), just 1 or 2 had actually made a donation to a prostate cancer charity.
While I had not really considered this before I read the article, it also, does not surprise me.
While social media is getting ever better at micro targeting its users, at the same time, its become a vehicle that promotes conformity. While one could say that a viral trend like “The Harlem Shake” (I FUCKING HATE IT!!) is not really a sign of societal “conformity”, many of the people sharing the video, share very similar demographics. I could almost use the word “generic”.
Awareness campaigns play right into this. People, though living the lives of (and seeing themselves as) “individuals”, seem to love to emulate one another. Whether that is by sticking to the same groups or cliques, sharing the same materials, or participating in the same awareness campaigns.
But to be fair to most, they may not realize this, unless it is actually pointed out. Though I have heard of some guys taking flack for shaving in November (I have), I do not think that it would be bold to think that most of the said people didn’t contribute to the actual cause (other then “spreading awareness” of it, anyway).
Which brings me to one of my problems with these kind of campaigns, as well as, so called #hashtag activism (online activism in general?).
It is great when people bring awareness to a cause that needs support. If it catches the attention, and the end result is more money to the charities (to help them fund necessary research, or to fund whatever their goal is), then arguably, no harm done. Just as if someones activism on twitter or elsewhere makes a difference for the GOOD, then there is nothing wrong with that either.
But a problem arises, if our true “impact” from the actions taken either as part of an awareness group or digital activist, do not have as much wight in reality as they do in our minds.
For the sake of honesty, while I have never really been part of any “awareness” campaigns (not even movember) that I can remember, I have done my fair share of “Keyboard Activism”. I have signed I do not know how many petition’s on portals such as Change.org, Care2 and Avaaz in the past. And I have shared, discussed and written about all sorts of topics that concern me on this very blog and on my social media pages.
While I never did have much hope in my lone voice being able to drown out the millions and millions of others countering it, for a long time, I valued the power of the petitions. Im thinking, because the democratic person in me was assuming that the receiver would bow to the power of democracy.
But after awhile, that thought process, fell by the wayside. First it was with petition’s DEMANDING the government of some distant developing nation to STOP many cruel treatments of animals. Which in itself, seems like a fair stance to take (I am against the needless harming of animals). But at the same time, our culture is not always the most humane when it comes to the treatment of animals, so who are WE to point fingers?
Then the “democratic” affect of the petition’s I signed, wore off. While they may work in some cases to resolve some conflict or correct some injustice, it is still, but a piece of digital (or physical) paper. After all, why should some foreign dictator care if 100,000 westerners disagree with his practices, if their only contribution to the backlash is the repetitive clicking on a “sign petition” button?
Not to mention that the petition sites (with the exception of Avaaz), begun to be very loose with, what petition’s they were promoting.
The one I remember the most, was when Care2 promoted a petition sponsored by Outlook.com (Microsoft) in order to “Expose” the sneaky advertising tactics employed by its biggest competitor Gmail (which amounted to an algorithm scanning the body of messages, and serving up ads based on keywords in the message). In fact I wrote about it HERE .
While the other blog entry focused my fury at Microsoft for pulling that sad publicity stunt, I should have also taken issue with Care2, for allowing them to do it in the first place. I also hold some contempt for the 125,000 signers of the petition, if the only information that they used to pick a “side”, was the petition.
Either way, my days of signing for impact, have come to an end. Though I still receive invitations from the 3 sites to sign various petitions, I usually just end up deleting them. Sometimes I may sign something that has relevance close to home, or that affects the whole planet (for example, concerning Keystone XL, Northern Gateway and other pipelines), but other then that, my digital “activism” consists of this. Writing to a blog, hoping to inform others.
While I may have come to my senses when it comes to understanding what my TRUE impact is, I did not give up all together. Though I do not regularly participate in any “awareness” programs, I try to regularly donate to charities. Some are humanitarian, some feed the homeless, some help conserve nature or help wild or domesticated animals, some fund research into deadly diseases (including prostate cancer). While my donation to each is smaller then I would like it to be (my income is not what it once was), it is far more then, expecting a mouse click to translate into an action.
Which is why I think that it is important to ask participants in such awareness campaigns, what they are REALLY doing to help with the cause. Or to the point, what did you do yourself, that is directly going towards finding a solution to the problem outlined in the cause.
If you learn that the person had not made a personal contribution to the cause, I do not think it is unreasonable, to make note of that. You do not have to be pushy about it. But just point out the problem, and with luck, they will realize this, and take it into consideration next time.
And in this category, I also include those chain emails/meme’s that start with a heart warming story, then say some variant of “Aol/Bill Gates/Steve Jobs is tracking this image/email, and for every forward/share, he/they are giving 10 cents to *insert charity here*.
For one thing, tracking the email would be a blatant breach of privacy law. For another, if these companies wanted to do such a contest, it would not be advertised VIA sharing on social media.
Some trickster troll somewhere started a chain email message that fooled many hundreds of thousands into annoying their recipients, by further perpetuating the message. And some modern day troll has transitioned the message onto social media, to further annoy us.
Stop the cycle.
“Hotmail is conducting a clean up of their servers, to get rid of all the unused accounts. If you do not forward this message, your account will be deleted in 10 days”.
Also, “1 Like = 1 Prayer. 1 Share = 100 Prayers”.
I ALREADY know that most people do not take the concept of their religion, OR prayer, all that seriously. You don’t need to prove me right!
This is one aspect of charitable fund-raising that gets very little attention from the general public, but which it should get more. The term comes from, when a charity partners up with a seller of a product or service, in order to arrange for some sort of donation to the charity, as a part of marketing the product in question. One example, is that for every product sold, X amount goes to the charity. Another could be the same setup, only with a cap to the total donation. Another variation of this that I have seen, is the construction of a new sport facility for a town (the “cause” not being a charity, but more, the perpetuation of sport in that culture).
One of the most popular forms of cause marketing, is with breast cancer awareness. Easily identifiable by the eye grabbing Pink , there are hundreds (if not thousands) of products that are promoted with this method.
While the act of raising money is great, and even better if you can find a brand that can take your cause all that much further. But remember, that the brand always wins, when it comes to the lions share of the profits.
For example, say you purchase a pack of 6 rolls of paper towels for $6.99. On the package, they have lots of pink, making sure that you see it plain as day on the store shelf amongst its competitors. But have you ever asked, HOW MUCH of the proceeds actually is donated to the breast cancer awareness charity?
You might find yourself unpleasantly surprised.
Another thing you have to be on the lookout for are companies that promote themselves by being in support of breast cancer awareness, but also produce, manufacture or sell products that are linked to the disease (known as Pinkwashing).
For further information on the subject of “Pink Washing”, visit http://thinkbeforeyoupink.org/ , and be sure to visit their Before You Buy Pink page. Also, watch the documentary Pink Ribbons Inc (available on Netflix). It is very interesting.
I guess the point of this entry is, like everything else in life, you only get as much out of your activism and contribution to a cause, as the effort that you put forth. If the energy you put in is equivalent to a mouse click (or otherwise almost non-existent), then chances are, that is what your impact will be. This goes both financially and physically.
Keep participating in the awareness campaigns, or digital activism or supporting your favorite charities by proxy, if you so desire. But do not kid yourself, by inflating the impact of your actions on the world.