Slacktivism, Poppies and ‘Staches
You live and learn. At any rate, you live
If there is one thing that has defined this year in social media, it’s narcissistic slacktivism. By this I mean of course the Ice Bucket Challenge, along with twitter hashtags like #nomakeupselfie and #wakeupcall . These campaigns raised a lot of money for their respective charities early on, but once half of Hollywood had participated, no amount of damp Joe Bloggs could be capable of raising any more awareness about the issues that the campaigns supported. Pouring a bucket of water over your head, or taking a picture of yourself while not wearing makeup became no more than a narcissistic gesture that attempted to demonstrate your generous nature, when actual donations of money could have done so much more. Some would say that they were still like this in the first place. Of course, many did donate money, for which they must be commended, but they didn’t necessarily need to participate in these lazy popularity contests as well.
Not only are these events narcissistic, but they are seemingly compulsory. To use the ice bucket challenge as an example, there was the false dichotomy between participating in the challenge, and donating £100 to the ALS Association, leading the challenge to spread like poorly written email spam. People who did neither, or even people who chose to donate over participating, were frowned upon for ‘spoiling the fun’. The internet is fickle, so of course these fund-raisers were eventually forgotten, in favour of a new meme or excuse for splashing your face over the web. However there are some similar campaigns that have been going on for a while, which few people think of in the same way due to their relative normality . I am talking about the Movember and Remembrance Poppy campaigns.
Movember, for the blissfully unaware, is a yearly event taking place during the month of November, where men are encouraged to grow moustaches to raise awareness of men’s health issues. This year, it celebrates it’s 10th anniversary as an international movement. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with this, but while the movement itself is fairly well known, significantly less people are aware of what it stands for. I cannot personally see how growing a moustache raises awareness for anything other than bad facial hair* without any extra context. At least these internet campaigns all had the context of what the money was being raised for within the media, you’d need external context for this campaign to make any sense. Still however it has managed to become one of the biggest fund-raising campaigns in the world. To me, it seems that the primary reason for this is the attention that your hairy lip brings to you, while still making you seem like a charity minded guy. Not only that, but the campaign is primarily about sponsorship, which is like donating for charity, but with other people’s money.
‘Remembrance Poppies‘ is perhaps a better campaign in many ways, although much more controversial. It usually focuses around Remembrance Day, a British event where people purchase a small, artificial poppy in order to pay their respects to the soldiers that died during World War 1. The money raised goes to the Royal British Legion and is used to support present and former members of the British Military. In the weeks leading up to the 11th of November, when Remembrance Day is celebrated, it is highly frowned upon not to wear a poppy, to the point where a well-known person appearing on the news without one will inevitably end up the subject of digital scorns, or even death threats. They sometimes also cause problems due to their seeming support, and in some people’s eyes, glorification of warfare. There is, for that reason, a lesser known white poppy, which supports campaigns against warfare. Some people, however, see as disrespectful to the memories of the soldiers. Remembrance Day almost always brings with it an annual mess of arguments and controversy.
The main problem with these ‘Viral Campaigns’ is that they have a risk of burning out an issue, or eventually sweeping under the rug altogether. While they may cause a big surge of donations, after they’ve moved on the issue doesn’t usually stay in people’s heads the same way that it does with other fund-raising efforts. Once everyone is doing it there is the risk of the campaign becoming the focus rather than the issue. They may even decrease long term donations, when everyone sees the short-term figures and chooses to donate to a different charity who is more in cash. I don’t have any evidence for this, but it certainly doesn’t seem unlikely. On the other hand, while it would be nice for more people to donate to charity through pure altruism, if these campaigns raise more money for charity then it is certainly not a bad thing, I just hope that in the future, fund-raising can rely more on choice, rather than peer pressure and more money can be raised for various good causes.
*Disclosure: I don’t like moustaches very much.