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On vaguebooking and slacktivism

Note: This is a translated and re-worked version of a response I made to someone who was annoyed that someone else criticized  the posting of a heart without anything in the way of context to one’s facebook page, supposedly to “raise awareness about breast cancer”. The person made the claim that it had been going on for years, and that anyone and everyone should know what it meant, and that there was no possible way to criticize it. As you are about to learn, I disagree.

There are a number of things to consider when posting or reposting a social media meme. The first one is whether it is understandable to your target audience. The second one is whether it is understandable to the world at large. With these two in mind, let us examine the meme. The stated intention is for the meme to raise awareness. Is the meme understandable to people who have no awareness of breast cancer? No. Is it understandable to the world at large? Again, the answer is no.

I was not aware of the meme when I first saw it a few months ago, and the claim that it had been going on for years at that point seemed strange to me. I will allow that, to those who know of the meme, and know what it is meant to raise awareness about, one *might* understand what is meant. I can guarantee, however, that the meme does not raise awareness among those who are not familiar with the meme.

For various reasons, I am well aware of breast cancer as a phenomenon. There exist a number of campaigns designed to raise awareness about breast cancer, and raise funds towards breast cancer research, most of which are significantly better. Even the controversial pink ribbon campaign is much to be preferred. I acknowledge that messages that are copied and shared serve a function; social media algorithms seem to boost copied statuses far more than they do those that are simply shared.

At best, the single heart used in this meme is ambiguous to a fault, and follow-up questions must be asked to ascertain which of the innumerable possible meanings is intended in this particular case. Is it an engagement? A birthday? An anniversary of some sort, perhaps? Is it meant to raise awareness about something? Is it a generic message of love? All of these, and many others are potential explanations for the single heart.

It is my contention that the meme in question is vaguebooking* and slacktivism**, and utterly worthless. No awareness is raised among those who are not aware of the cause promoted, and no one is informed who needs informing about anything at all.

*Vaguebooking: An intentionally vague Facebook status update, that prompts friends to ask what’s going on, or is possibly a cry for help.

**Slacktivism (slactivism or slackervism, a portmanteau of slacker and activism) is a pejorative term for “feel-good” measures in support of an issue or social cause. The action may have little effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfied that they have contributed. Slacktivism is showing support for a cause but only truly being beneficial to the egos of people participating in this so-called activism. The acts tend to require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist. The underlying assumption being promoted by the term is that these low-cost efforts substitute for more substantive actions rather than supplementing them, although this assumption has been criticized.


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