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Just do it

December 9th, 2010

Last weekend, I logged into Facebook and discovered I was suddenly Facebook friends with Elmo, Doug Funnie and Hello Kitty.

Many members of the Facebook community changed their profile pictures to images of cartoon characters from Disney movies or old Nickelodeon shows.

The explanation of the trend came from a status update posted by an acquaintance of mine.

According to his status, the goal of the action was to raise social awareness about child abuse.

Apparently, searching for a Google image of a cartoon character and uploading it to a Facebook page was supposed to suppress or alleviate the woes of a major social problem.

The call to action: “Join the fight against child abuse.”

It was a noble endeavor loaded with good intentions, but I had to laugh when I saw a comment posted below said person’s Facebook status. It said, “Way to go, man. I’m proud of you!”

Copying and pasting a blurb isn’t exactly hard work. It is not risky or time-consuming. I’m not convinced that it should be a source of pride.

With a couple of clicks, Facebook users everywhere took action. Or did they?

Not only was there little education about the issue of child abuse, there was also no action that would result in real social change.

Changing my profile picture to Ariel from “The Little Mermaid” is not going to prevent some kid from being physically or mentally abused or neglected.

It’s almost an irrelevant act, except that it might make some people feel better about themselves for a day or two, and it’s fun to reminisce about being a kid.

And, even though cartoons replaced human faces on Facebook for a few days, eventually everyone will return their pictures to normal. No lasting change will have taken place.

Author Malcolm Gladwell, in “Small Change,” an article that appeared in The New Yorker, wrote that social networks make “it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact” because the people involved are unorganized, undisciplined, and have weak ties to the cause.

Real social change might come from joining a Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. Real change might come from students who are studying to become social workers. Real change might come from fostering children or helping stressed out parents learn to cope.

Real change does not come from status updates and changes of profile pictures.

Whether the issue is child abuse, AIDS, equality or poverty, if you want to make a difference, it is solutions in combination with awareness that matter.

Beneficial social activism requires thoughtfulness, innovation, and effort.

So, if you actually care about something, be a doer.

Write letters to local government representatives; donate your money; donate your time; or become informed.

Get off Facebook, and do something.

Make sure that if you are an advocate, you are an advocate who goes out into the world and directly confronts issues. And, then post something about it on Facebook.

That’s praise-worthy.