• -
  • irishtimes.com - Posted: December 6, 2010 @ 10:45 am

    Why I am not a cartoon character (and other Facebook related madness)

    Ciara O'Brien

    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.

    Who knew?

    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.

    If you do feel like donating some money – or time – you can contact Barnardos here or the ISPCC here.

    • Alan says:

      Charity? Missed that. Just thought it would be nice to feature a favourite cartoon character for a day. What cant we do things just for the fun of it.

    • Yes, that’s the new one going around. Though now, as I mentioned, it’s been changed to paedophiles trying to trick your kids.

      Go figure.

    • gerry says:

      It’s Snake Week 2010! Change your profile photo to a photo of a snake and spread the word.

    • Hazel Green says:

      well if you’re stupid enough to accept friend requests from random strangers it’s your own fault.!

    • Tasha says:

      It’s funny how people always want to look at the negative aspect of everything. If it is an issue that kids accept pedophiles, why aren’t the parents monitoring their children internet time anyway. I like Donald Duck and that’s just how I feel about the situation.

    • Mick King says:

      I put up Mutley and fraud or no fraud, I am very happy with my new profile pic. Mutley stays!

    • Marsha says:

      I imagine that of all the people on facebook that changed their profile picture there were quite a few that are the actual abuser and in theory or hopefully they will try to be better parents especially as they think back on the good fun things that made them happy as a child. Even if all this just made one person think twice before they started the name calling or raised their hand then it is definitely worth the very little effort it took for the 1000′s to change their profile pic.

    • karen smith says:

      I’m with alan on this, i didnt believe for a single minute that any charity was going to benefit or any boogie man was going to access my friends list, i just thought it would be a nice way to remember my childhood ( mine was Casper btw) I’ve just asked all my friends to post their fav christmas pressie as a child … but no doubt by the time it does the rounds, it will have develo[ped sisnister intentions too

    • Michelle O'Shea says:

      Thank you so much for writing this article – I’ve been thinking this for weeks now and so good to see it written in a reputable paper. YES – I SHARED THIS ON FACEBOOK!!!

    • Martin says:

      Great article. People’s gullibility online never ceases to amaze me. These viral hoaxes have been going around for years. Remember all those emails, “Forward this to 15 people within 24 hours or you’ll probably die…”. As long as there are idiots out there, our in-boxes will be plagued with this spam.

    • Jessie says:

      While not a facebook (“fakebook”) user, I believe the trend started some years ago in the annual breast cancer awareness week, where women were encouraged to state something in expressing pink for breast cancer awareness. I believe then, it was changed to a certain statement that could be taken up as sexually crude.

      Having reading through boards.ie you can get a much clearer picture of the fads on facebook without having to subscribe your soul to such a site.

      Facebook was initially a social networking site for people. Now it’s full of companies, corporations, charities and whatever else you can possibly have. It’s no surprise that legitimate campaigns with honest intent can get so distorted.

      However, in saying that, I was completely unaware of any fund raising activity in the media regarding donating to children’s charity that was any different from the normal. Perhaps if this had been more widely promoted away from social networking, such a distortion may not have been made. However, though, it is an obvious mistake in child protection that a profile picture of a cartoon character would lead a 13 year old (and younger, who adjust their dob without reading the T+Cs) to think that the person that they are befriending is also a 13 year old child, as a direct result of the cartoon picture, and hence the campaign should have been scrapped, as any child protection agency or charity working for the interests of children, should be aware of this. If not, it is a huge neglect in basic safety. How many children now, as a result, have paedophiles as their friends and who is going to check this? And how many facebook users over 18 will find with great surprise that their cartoon pictured new friend is actually a minor on the site, if not even younger? What 13 year old child really understands the risks associated if they aren’t shown the special pages within facebook on protecting themselves?

      In having dealt with this issue with a family member who was underage for facebook, they had set up another much younger family member under 10 by merely adjusting the dob but never read the t+cs because they didn’t know what it was and couldn’t understand it and of course, without parental consent. They went on posting pictures of themselves and also put down their full residential address for all to see as well as their telephone number. In fairness to Facebook, they were excellent and speedy in shutting and deleting these particular profiles by request for being underage.

      While posters here think it was great to have done so, have you checked what your children, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, especially those under 13 are doing on facebook? or bebo for that matter as some still use it? Have you checked to ensure that their cartooned disguised friend is actually a child of their own age range?

    • Jessie says:

      Just to add on my previous post, I’ve been on the internet since mid 1990s, seen many social networking sites come and go, been on many of the predecessors of facebook etc, so I’m not a novice or naive user of the internet and should not be mistaken for one.

    • cautious says:

      I haven’t seen this anywhere yet, but the first thing I thought of when I saw the post asking me to change my profile picture to my favorite cartoon character from my childhood was that it is an attempt to get people to answer a question that is frequently an option as an online security question. “What was your favorite childhood cartoon character?” is an option as a fraud prevention question on at least 2 of my online banking/credit card websites.