Ridiculous Facebook Meme Spawns Even More Ridiculous Backlash

Over the past week, messages like this have been sweeping Facebook:

As profile-picture memes go, I guess it could be worse.

We all remember those cartoons from our childhood that brought us happiness — personally, I thought He-Man was pretty frickin’ awesome.

And although I never participate in such things, I have no problem with cheesy people changing their profile pictures from a photo of their baby, dog, or significant other to a cartoon character from bygone days. In many cases, it would be an improvement.

What I do find pretty ridiculous is the idea that changing your profile picture to G.I. Joe could help prevent child abuse, or even raise awareness. How is a cartoon profile picture going to remind anyone that child abuse exists?

“You know, I’d completely forgotten about child abuse until I saw that you changed your profile picture to Taz. Now I am going to go out and vanquish it!”

(Gawker recently lampooned the trend on these very grounds in a post headlined “Facebook Users Defeat All Child Abuse by Changing Their Profile Pictures.”)

Seems like “raising awareness” is a more appropriate strategy for something obscure like the march to extinction for a rare species of halibut, or the spread of a fatal disease that only affects the Maori.

Really, in 2010, is there any crime more widely feared by the public than child abuse?

Sometimes it seems like our media is more interested in hunting pedophiles than reporting on the issues that actually affect most people on a day-to-day basis!

But let’s allow for the fact that child neglect, abandonment, and other pedo-free crimes might be underappreciated.

The Department of Health and Human Services probably has a good reason to hold “National Child Abuse Prevention Month” every April. I’m in no position to argue with that.

However, this trend is not an organized campaign that combines a viral effort with some kind of substantive backup. It turns out to be a fad that started on Facebook in Greece and focused only on cartoon character nostalgia — and then mutated to include this child abuse theme for some odd reason. It’s not a real campaign, it’s basically a virus.

Even so, it’s harmless in and of itself.

What made this meme particularly memorable is that it triggered a huge backlash that kicked off this afternoon and quickly spread across the interwebs!

Posts like this began appearing all over the English-speaking world yesterday afternoon:

IT’S ON TONIGHT’S NEWS people!! Unimpeachable proof! Gather the villagers and get the torches, the pedos are on the march!

ROTI recently reported on the “mechanically separated chicken” myth, in which a story spread across Facebook without actually including any convincing evidence or reliable source whatsoever.

Same story here. Perfectly intelligent people read the panicky text and quickly passed on this information, without regard to whether or not it was actually true. Pretty soon this urban legend about a crafty pedo gang hell-bent on obscuring their predatory ways in a haze of cartoonish nostalgia was flooding everyone’s News Feed.

No doubt this would be quite a malevolent scheme…but if you actually bothered to check if this “breaking story” was going to be on tonight’s national news, or if it was being run by ANY reliable news organization at all, you found this:

As good of a story as it would be if this trend was really a scam, it just looks like another example of how gullible people can be when they’re online. Once again, friends — check your sources before you start spreading these rumors.

The fact that a child-abuse-awareness campaign was quickly overrun by concerns that it was the work of evil, shadowy child abusers certainly speaks to the awareness — and fear of — child abuse that (clearly) already exists on Facebook.

No offense Facebook campaigners for a better world, but if you want me to change my profile picture, you’re going to have to organize yourselves a little better next time. Come up with a legitimate campaign that isn’t going to collapse under an afternoon of completely baseless rumors.

Unless, of course, you’re campaigning to fight pedophilophiles — the most underappreciated public morality threat of our time. Then I’m with you, and I’ll bring my own pitchfork.

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About Alpine McGregor
Just like you, man. I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase. All in the game, though, right?

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