Why I am not a cartoon character (and other Facebook related madness)
If you haven’t already shut down your Facebook profile by now, you’ll probably have realised that trends on the site follow a particular pattern. First of all there’s the initial email, imploring people to change their status/profile picture to something obscure “to get people talking”. The hook usually is that it’s for charity, usually a worthy cause that people would feel like a heartless git if they weren’t seen to support it.
Then it snowballs.
Suddenly, everyone’s at it. And before you know it, there are copycat campaigns everywhere, and people are posting the colour of their underwear, where they put their handbag or substituting a drink for their current relationship status.
All in the name of raising awareness of cancer, or child abuse, or pet cruelty, or an equally worthy cause.
Sometimes it can take a particularly sinister turn. If the nominated cause is anything to do with children, you can be almost guaranteed that someone eventually will decide this isn’t an awareness campaign, it’s a front for a notorious gang of paedophiles. So it all starts again.
It’s a quandary. Don’t change your profile picture, and clearly you’re supporting the opposite of whatever cause is trying to raise awareness. Do, and very soon you could be seen to be helping paedophiles gain access to children’s profiles.
What’s a Facebook-er to do?
In this case, I’ve chosen to do nothing. Well, not on Facebook, anyway.
A few weeks ago, I got a chain mail that invited me to change my profile picture to my favourite childhood cartoon to make it “Nostalgia Week” on Facebook. So imagine my surprise when a couple of days ago, a logged on to find that people were now being invited to change their picture to raise awareness against child abuse.
Then yesterday, the updates started warning that this was, in fact, a nefarious way for paedophiles to gain access to the profiles of children. And by changing your photo you were actually helping them disguise themselves.
Apparently an unnamed TV show. There are varying versions of the status update floating around, but this is the gist of it:
“Did you know that the group asking everyone to change their profile picture to their favourite cartoon character is actually a group of paedophiles? They’re doing it because kids will accept their friend request faster if they see a cartoon picture. It has nothing to do with supporting child violence, it was on that TV show that warns you about internet fraud.”
We’ll ignore the fact the update actually mentions “supporting child violence” (in favour of violence against children? Against it? Supporting the right of children to be violent?) We could also ignore the fact that Facebook’s terms and conditions clearly state that under-13s aren’t supposed to register – who actually reads them, or follows them anyway?
But yet again, the unnamed source rears its head. In this case, it’s a mystery TV show that warned about internet fraud. Has anyone who copied this status actually asked: which show? Have they done any research before copying it to find out where this particular campaign originated?
It all looks a little flimsy.
But the hysteria is nothing new. There have been countless chain status updates warning of paedophile on Facebook trying to access your children’s photos. One solution: don’t put them up.
And there have been other groups and campaigns named dragged into the madness.
One of the latest victims was a well known fashion retailer’s baby photo competition. That was accused of being a front for paedophiles too (it wasn’t).
Rumours get spread easily on Facebook. On a lesser scale, the annoying “Facebook is going to CHARGE!!!!!!” meme that went around appears to have petered out after Facebook wrote that it was not planning to charge users any time soon into its help centre and even put it on the homepage. But considering people were telling me this was FACT, it was DEFINITELY happening, it’s easy to see how things get out of hand.
But at the heart of the matter is the question of what good changing your status or your profile picture on Facebook will actually do. I’m sure lots of people have done it with the best intentions, and I’m not criticising that. But let’s face it, while raising awareness of a particular cause can only be praised, it has to be backed up with something more. Changing your profile picture on Facebook will do nothing for children if charities like Barnardos and the ISPCC don’t have enough money to offer real help to children who need it.
So if changing your profile picture to a cartoon character reminded you or anyone linked to your profile to donate money to children’s charities, all well and good. Job done. If it didn’t, you may as well just have left it as it was.