If you’ve been on facebook at all in December this year, you may have seen something happening to all your friends—their pictures changing to their favorite cartoon characters! You may or may not have seen a message from those same friends encouraging you and everyone else to do it, too, as a way of increasing awareness of child abuse. It caught my eye and I couldn’t help but wonder what it was all about, what was the story behind the story.

According to ABC news:

According to the trend-tracking website Know Your Meme, the cartoon fad started with Facebook users in Greece and Cyprus in mid-November. The site said the original message was in Greek and translated to “From the 16th to the 20th of November, we shall change our profile pictures to our favourite cartoon characters. The purpose of this game is to remove all photos of human for a few days from Facebook.”

What struck me about this original message was the lack of connection to a cause. According to Mashable,

The origins of this campaign remain a mystery, as it doesn’t seem to be affiliated with any official organization. And not that you need to limit child abuse awareness to a certain time of year, but, at least in the U.S., National Child Abuse Prevention Month isn’t until April. Some Facebook commenters have also pointed out the perhaps misdirected effort, posting messages skeptical of any tangible outcomes.

This is when I really started paying attention. There has to be something going on that’s getting everyone excited enough to search for a cartoon character and change their picture. I also started noticing that of my friends on facebook, it was a pretty even spread between people that worked in the nonprofit sector and those that didn’t. I posted in a facebook group for social media and nonprofit folks the following message:

I’ve been pretty perplexed by the cartooning of facebook and after seeing news posts about how it is not child abuse awareness month or week and so forth, and the posts about how the call to change profile pics to a cartoon started in greece made me wonder if perhaps for the meme to continue/catch fire in the english translation if people felt obligated to make up an advocacy-related reason for people to play along…

A fellow group member and colleague, Tom Watson, replied that, “I’ve seen perhaps two dozens links to child abuse organizations swapped in the last couple of days—and it was fun. Sure, it’s slacktivism but what the hey….it was fun.”

And another friend, Stacey Monk, noted, “I couldn’t resist an opportunity to swap my mug with the shmoo. And I got to learn why I love him so much—turns out, according to wikipedia, he’s a “classic allegory of greed and corruption tarnishing all that’s good and innocent in the world”—so I studied up on shmoo which made it all worthwhile wink http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shmoo

So, I think I “get it” as far as what catches hold on facebook—something easily shareable, easy to accomplish, and fun/enjoyable. But, what still really stands out for me, is the addition of the cause-advocacy appeal once the meme hit the English translation.

Do we need slacktivism to justify fun behavior online? Are we so accustomed to easy-to-accomplish campaigns that we assume every “call to action” is/needs to be associated with a cause? What does this mean for the Child Abuse Awareness Month activities in April—when a specific organization or campaign tries to call on us “for real” this time?

What do you think? Did you change your picture—why or why not? What’s your reaction to campaigns like this?

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