It might just be because I slept badly and am feeling a little worn out and grumpy, but I’m getting annoyed with friends’ facebook status updates today. Specifically: I’m seeing a lot of female friends who have agreed to ‘increase the awareness of breast cancer’ (as it was described in a message sent to me) by posting, as a status update, the place where they like their handbag to be located. In other words, my news feed is full of status updates like ‘Mary likes it by the front door’ and ‘Jennifer likes it on the sofa’. A similar viral ‘awareness’ thing took place last October and a lot of women posted a status update which said nothing more than the colour of their bra. As that same message to me pointed out, ‘the bra game made it to the news’.
Now – of course – I’m all in favour of people raising awareness of important causes. What bothers me is the idea that doing something like this is a worthwhile activity in itself. ‘Raising awareness’ is only worthwhile is something happens as a result of the awareness being raised. For example, most charities try to raise awareness of their cause because they want people to donate money to that cause. My concern is that 99% of the women writing these ‘I like it’ status updates are doing nothing more than that: if they were ‘raising awareness’ AND making a donation to a good breast cancer charity, fantastic. But I fear that this probably isn’t the case (although I’m still resisting the urge to actually ask some of them outright, in a comment under the relevant status update. I don’t want to embarrass my friends.)
I’ve noticed this kind of thing before on Facebook – in particular, people ‘liking’ a charity’s page, as if that’s the same thing as supporting it. It isn’t the same thing. The entire world could write ‘I like it’ status updates to raise awareness of breast cancer, but it wouldn’t make an ounce of difference when it comes to actually discovering a cure to the disease. And really, does the Western world need their awareness of breast cancer raised? Surely everybody knows that breast cancer is a horrible thing and that money and time should be devoted to researching treatments and cures?
When it comes to things that are commonly considered ‘good’ I think there’s a real danger of people mistaking token efforts for proper efforts. The entire ‘supermarkets discouraging customers from using plastic bags’ situation is a good case in point. I remember watching a news story about Sainsbury’s supermarket trying to phase out plastic bags and encourage customers towards reusable bags. The BBC couldn’t find an environmental charity willing to come on screen and endorse the initiative and for good reason: it doesn’t actually make a huge amount of difference to the state of the world and the relevant charities fear that people will think, ‘oh, I’m using a recyclable bag at Sainsbury’s and that means that I’m environmentally friendly’. In other words, it’s a token effort that tricks people into thinking that they’re saving the world: it doesn’t encourage the real behavioural change required (in the case of environmental stuff; driving less, flying less, not wasting water, not buying crappy, disposable products, etc). It’s like people who give money to Oxfam and then buy their clothes from Primark. A small gesture doesn’t make a blind bit of difference if your wider actions lack thought.
To avoid writing a scathing facebook comment and risk losing half of my friends (hey, what can I tell you? I like being liked!), I’ve written this status update:
Jacquelyn loves facebook user-led initiatives to raise awareness of certain causes. However, it would be even cooler if everybody who takes part also made a financial donation to a good, relevant charity: raising awareness is fab, but funding the research needed to cure diseases is even better!
Maybe a good way forward would be for every woman who has posted one of the ‘I like it’ status updates to donate the value of their monthly broadband subscription?