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Facebook Memes: Slacktivism or Social Movement?

Chances are, if you are a Facebook user, you probably have seen friends posting a name of a color as a status update.  The latest Facebook meme began on Wednesday this week as female users began receiving messages in their inboxes.

“We are playing a game for Breast Cancer Awareness,” one form of the message read. “Write the color of your bra as your status — just the color, nothing else!! Copy this and pass it on to all girls — NO MEN!! This will be fun to see how it spreads.”

And, spread it has.  While there are no official counts, it appears that thousands of Facebook users have joined in this meme by posting colors on their walls — whether they received the inbox message or not.

But, is the act of posting a color — and nothing else — enough to make a difference?  Or, is this meme just another example of slacktivism — feel-good online activism that has zero political or social impact?

I have to admit, when I first saw the posts on my wall, I rolled my eyes.  After a year of twibbons, twestivals and other social networking slacktivism campaigns, I assumed this was just another “all talk, no action” campaign.  And, then, I learned that the Susan G. Komen Foundation, who is synonymous with Breast Cancer, gained over 135,000 new Facebook fans as a result of this meme.  Though they did not start it, they have definitely benefited from it.  Prior to the start of this meme, the organization’s Facebook Fan Page had only 135 fans — even though they have been trying for two years with two full-time staff members dedicated to “cracking” social networking for good.  Today, as I post this, the organization now has over 136,000 fans — fans that can be tapped into to spread the word about early detection, lobby for research, participate in fundraising activities — and to donate online.

Then, of course, there is Charles Burch, who today posted on YouTube a video explaining why he started the meme.  He set up a Facebook Fan Page as well (it has 1000+ fans) and has raised $60.00 for cancer research.

To truly make a difference though, this meme has to motivate its fans to do more than post their bra color on their Facebook wall; it has to motivate them to get that mammogram, to tell a friend or family member to get that mammogram, to donate money for a cure, to lobby for policies and activities that help bring about a cure.  Otherwise, it’s just another slacktivist campaign — entertaining but empty.

Since I wrote the above post, I read an extremely moving post by Susan Niebur, a breast cancer survivor, on why awareness is not enough and how memes can be anything but entertaining. As cause marketers, its important to remember substance trumps entertainment.

  • nonsequiteuse January 10, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    I’m hoping to start another wave with an actual call to action to get involved with breast cancer research.

    A full explanation here:

    I’m asking women to join The Army of Women, a group aiming to recruit 1,000,000 potential participants in medical studies leading to a cure, then change their FB status to say “I’m in the Army now” while also linking to The Army of Women website or their own explanation so other women can join the Army as well.

    We’ll see if this slightly more complicated meme can take off. It would be amazing to have an extra 135,000 women taking part in The Army of Women. Spread the word if you are so inclined.

  • Sarah Merion January 12, 2010 at 2:47 am

    Really interesting thoughts. I’m glad you brought this up as it never occurred to me. Slacktivist is a new word for me but I completely understand it’s place in current society. Memes like this are hard to measure though. Unless we can track the direct actions (or even thoughts!) that these memes provoke, it may appear as slacktivism. Who knows, but super interesting to think about.

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