Slacktivism and Internet Gossip

Over the past weekend, people have been changing their profile pictures on Facebook to cartoon characters they liked when they were kids.  It started off as a nostalgia trip and it was, literally, being done for the fun of it but, for some reason, an individual or individuals then linked it to showing support for protecting the innocence of, and standing up against violence against, children.  Eventually, the NSPCC (The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) were mentioned on the statuses as well and it looked as if it was something kosher, organised by the charity.  However, it wasn’t – the charity was just tagged on the end by some well-meaning individuals.  Not that the NSPCC were upset about it, of course.  The trend went viral, around half of the people on my friends list became cartoons and the NSPCC got lots of publicity.  All well and good.

Still, I didn’t participate for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, I didn’t have access to a desktop computer over the weekend, primarily because I was at work for most of my waking hours and was only accessing Facebook from my mobile phone, which means that I couldn’t do things like editing profile pictures, watching videos, playing games and, well, all of the fun stuff really.  Secondly, I really didn’t see how I was in any way campaigning against violence against children or doing any real good for the NSPCC by changing my profile picture.  Some people have made the point that it has raised the profile of the NSPCC, which is great – however, I believe that the best way to show your support for that charity is by donating to them, rather that just changing your profile picture and thinking you’ve made a difference.  Besides, I’m unconvinced that I really need to show my public support for that particular cause – I believe that it should really be taken as read that I’m against beating kids up, regardless of whether I have Dogtanian & The Three Muskahounds instead of my ugly mug as my Facebook profile picture.  Of course, I’d hate to think that by not changing my profile picture to a cartoon character, that I was, in effect, condoning knocking seven shades of shit out of little Johnny down the road with a baseball bat, but now I’m worried that people may think that’s the case.

So, here it is: I am against acts of violence on children.

Glad I cleared that up.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’m for acts of violence on adults, just because I’ve only made my position clear for the children.  Damn.  This is a potential minefield I’m not sure I should have started to walk through!  People could be thinking all sorts of things about me!  After all, every so often I’m invited to join a “cause” on Facebook which it should be near-assumed that every sane human being should be against, things like “stop cruelty to animals”.  I seldom join these causes, because I really don’t see what good I’m doing by joining something like that other than telling the world that I’m against cruelty to animals.  Which, naturally, I am.  It’s why I have, in the past, donated to the PDSA and other charities I’ve felt passionate about.  There are also lots of other things which, as a decent human being, I stand against, but haven’t felt the need to advertise those things on Facebook.  Still, in the interest of being misunderstood or misconstrued in any way, I think I should clear this up by telling you exactly what I’m against;

  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Child abuse
  • Slavery
  • Homelessness
  • Child prostitution
  • Animal abuse
  • Religious fundamentalism
  • The repression of women
  • The 9/11 bombings
  • The 7/7 bombings
  • Cancer
  • Child labour
  • Paying £1,000 a day to use Facebook from October 31st, 2019
  • The molestation of chickens
  • Using bubble gum as makeshift contraception
  • Eating listed buildings
  • Using hamsters as snooker balls
  • Repeatedly beating pensioners around the head with encyclopedias
  • Giving babies booze
  • Allowing the criminally insane to run pre-school nurseries
  • Giving criminals ten million quid when they’re released from prison
  • Microwaving teenagers
  • James Blunt
  • Sultanas

Hmm.  OK, perhaps I can’t actually give you a definitive and exhaustive list of everything I stand against.  That would definitely take too long and I’m scared of missing things out.  I really wouldn’t want you all thinking that I believe that buggering reptiles is a perfectly acceptable pastime, for example (it’s not!).  To be perfectly frank, I don’t think I’m underestimating you all by guessing that you probably already knew that I am against all those things anyway, before reading that pointless list.  Apart from the fact that I’m against sultanas, of course.  In fact, “I am against sultanas!” would definitely be a Facebook group/page worth creating – mainly because sultanas are something that some people like (for some crazy reason) and to protest against them would be going against popular opinion.  That’s what these groups and pages should be for, not the stuff that everyone in their right mind is against.  To advertise on your Facebook page that you’re against some of these things is stating the bleeding obvious and you’re kidding yourself if you think you’re making any real difference to the world by liking these pages or joining these groups.

It’s “slacktivism”.  Doing something which takes little to no effort and makes no real difference.  It’s why people forward those chain (and often fake) e-mails like the one asking people to send business cards to some poor dying child. Now, there may be some people reading this who think I’m being a bit harsh on people who basically mean well – and I suppose I am, but if you mean well, there’s lot of things you can do to make a real difference.  Donate.  Volunteer.  Stuff envelopes.  Go door to door collecting.  Don’t just ‘like’ a cause on Facebook – it really means nothing, unless it’s something that nobody has ever heard of and they really need to – then you’re doing some good when you spread the word.

Another annoying and completely avoidable negative trait of many Facebook users, highlighted by the NSPCC mass-profile picture change, is passing on chain statuses which are scaremongering and untrue.  Something which went round the Facebook community like wildfire was the urgent bulletin that the people behind the urging of users to change their profile pictures to cartoon characters were, in fact, paedophiles who were seeking to make it easier to add kids as friends if they had a nice child-friendly cartoon instead of a photo.  This was, of course, ridiculous and complete and utter bollocks.  It was, however, quite scary at how many people swallowed it, hook, line and sinker and re-posted this warning about this dastardly paedo plot.

If, in “real life”, somebody tells you something outlandish and you pass it on to someone else without checking if it’s true, you’re guilty of gossiping which is bad enough.  If you do this online, when you have all of the tools to check whether what you’ve been told is true or not and then pass it onto your hundreds of Facebook friends, then you’re guilty of something much worse – making yourself look like a prat.  There have been so many of these chain status updates over the last couple of years.  One which comes to mind is that the recent NEXT baby photo competition was actually fake and that it was a page being run by paedophiles so that they could get lots of photos of kiddies!  That was completely fictitious and was started by the mother of one of the babies entered into the competition in an attempt to get lots of people to withdraw and give her brat a better chance of winning… and it worked.  Thousands of people withdrew their baby from the competition and bombarded the NEXT page with rather colourful language telling these non-existent paedophiles what they would like to do to them.

There was also the Starbucks hate campaign a little while back, where people passed on the message that we should all boycott Starbucks because they were refusing to supply free coffee to Marines on active duty, because they were against the war… or something like that.  That rumour started in 2004 and was dug up again in 2008 when it was changed to the Royal Marines and given a British slant.  Basically, it was most likely started by a competitor in order to smear Seattle’s finest – and it worked.  Most of these chain statuses have an ulterior motive and are meant to damage a person or a company’s reputation in some way – and if you pass these on then you’re basically assisting evil and spreading ignorance.  There are still people to this day who believe that Starbucks are anti-military, that Tommy Hilfiger is a racist and that Barack Obama is a Muslim.

The truth is important.  If someone who is your friend posts a status update giving information which was said to be on “the news” or that they were told “by a friend”, then the accuracy is worth checking out.  Even if they give a company’s name or say that it was on the television, it is well worth checking out the source yourself by going to the news channel or company’s website, certainly before risking your own reputation by passing on information which may not be true.  If you’re still not sure, then the best source for checking urban myths and chain e-mails/statuses is  You owe it to your friends, the people involved and, most importantly, yourself… because you don’t want to look like a gullible moron in front of your friends, just because you didn’t take a minute to check the facts, do you?

I think I know the answer to that.

About A.D.S.

You are reading the musings of a music-obsessed forty-something who was brought up on The Beatles, lived through Britpop and now spends his time in pursuit of the best music around. This 'blog gives me an outlet to write about the huge number of albums I buy and the many gigs I go to. All of the opinions expressed are my own and if you don't agree with me, then I understand - music is a very personal thing. I like to receive comments, especially if they're nice ones.
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4 Responses to Slacktivism and Internet Gossip

  1. Bill says:

    Brilliant stuff! Well written!

  2. Rachael says:

    I didn’t change my profile pic either to a cartoon. I think asking people to do stuff like that is annoying and reminds me too much of groups in school. I’m out of school, in case people didn’t notice. I don’t need to “do” anything in order to show support of this or that. And I am not a bad person because I have not joined in.
    Besides… I had a cartoon up a few weeks ago. lol :o)

  3. Pingback: So anyway… » Shared Links 7 Dec 2010

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