Saturday, 22 March 2014

#NoMakeUpSelfie and the culture of 'Facebook Activism'

The 'No Make-Up Selfie' is one of the biggest stories on social media this week.

The way it's supposed to work is:  you post a picture of yourself wearing no make-up on Facebook, then you nominate a couple of friends who also have to post pictures of themselves wearing no make-up, and somewhere along the line somebody texts the word BEAT to 70099 to donate £3 to Cancer Research UK.

But, this being Facebook, even the humble act of charitable giving has developed into an argumentative brawl.  There has been a backlash against the 'No Make-Up Selfie' campaign, with people claiming that simply posting a picture of yourself on the internet doesn't actually do anything to raise money for Cancer Research (which is true).  But other people have pointed out that Cancer Research UK have seen a £2m increase in donations since the campaign began, so if the posts are encouraging more people to give to the cause, what's the big deal?

If you take it in isolation, the 'No Make-Up Selfie' campaign is undoubtedly a force for good; the increase in the amount raised by Cancer Research UK bears that out.  But in context, it is part of a growing trend of 'Facebook Activism', which I worry might be harming, rather than helping, charitable causes in the long run.

I'm sure the 'No Make-Up Selfie' is not the first charity-related Facebook campaign you have seen.  I remember a time when everyone was supposed to change their profile picture to a cartoon character from a TV programme they used to watch in their youth, to 'raise awareness' for child abuse - to name just once.

Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with this.  'Raising awareness' about important issues on social media is great, as far as it goes.  But that's just the point - it doesn't go nearly far enough.

The trouble with 'Facebook Activism' is that it gives you the illusion of doing good without actually making any real difference.  People can feel complacent, believing that they have 'done their bit' merely by posting a status update, or changing their profile picture.

Coming back to the excellent work done by Cancer Research UK, for a moment...  I myself have had a direct debit set up to make a regular donation to Cancer Research UK since long before the 'No Make-Up Selfie' craze took off, and I have taken part in several fundraising events to raise money for cancer charities.  I'm not saying this to hold myself up as some paragon of charitable piety (it's more to fill space in this post - y'know, add another paragraph), but I think it's interesting to put yourself in the position of someone working at one of these charities.  I'm sure you'd be delighted to know that some social media craze meant everyone was talking about the charitable work you did, and that your cause was at the forefront of the national consciousness - but you'd probably be even happier to think people were actually going out and doing something to help, instead of tapping away on a smartphone and thinking that, in itself, constituted 'doing enough'.

'Raising awareness' on Facebook is a brilliant way to augment the tireless work of charity activists - but it doesn't, and can't, replace it.

Text BEAT to 70099 now.

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