This weekend I got into a minor verbal (textual?) scuffle on Facebook with a couple of dear friends over an issue that’s very important to me. Because the issue is so deeply part of how I view the world, I responded to a Facebook trend in haste, and offended more than a few people. I will be the first to admit that my kneejerk reaction was a mistake. However, I am not willing to admit that I’m wrong about why I reacted as I did.

There are those who say that changing your profile picture in support of a cause raises awareness, but then what? Okay, so you’re aware, now how about doing something? As Andy Scherer articulated to me, it’s even less of a meaningful gesture than wearing a rubber bracelet or sporting a bumper sticker: at least in those cases, you’ve put a couple of bucks down in support of the cause. There’s no commitment in changing your profile picture; it will last only as long as our atrophying attention spans, and does nothing of real value for the cause.

And in this case–child abuse awareness–the Facebook trend disturbs me because in effect (“show no human faces”) the psychology of it signifies that we’re turning our faces away from, or hiding our faces in shame of, a very important cause. I decline, thanks, because victims have faces, and I stand in public support of this cause. It is shameful, and we must not hide from it.

All that said, the problem arose because I responded to something that seemed obvious to me–but I missed some subtleties about how other people view and respond to the issue (not hard to imagine; “subtle” is not my native language!). I was reprimanded for making too broad of a generalization regarding others’ actions (or inactions in this case); of course, many people are doing something about the issue, and other issues important to them. I maintain, however, that for many others it’s too easy to change your profile picture, bang a drum and say “it’s bad” without taking real action to change it–whatever “it” happens to be that week. And abusers may well be beating the drum right beside you, because they rarely consider what they do to be abuse.

There’s a broader lesson here around how we use–and can use–social media. For many, it’s a public playground; it’s also a cauldron of ideas and opinions, few of which may actually align with yours or mine. But presented correctly, you might be able to use social media to change an opinion, or grow an idea.

In the end, my initial reaction turned into a call to action, to which I hope likeminded readers will respond, because at the end of the day, social media can also be a staggeringly powerful engine for change.

The call to action is this: instead of just changing your profile picture because you think child abuse is bad, I would challenge you to follow that up with real action. Volunteer to do work for a local shelter, or better yet, participate in a community outreach/prevention/education program; or call your senator to enact stricter legislation around child abuse and domestic violence.

And what are we doing here at SheTech and Company (because we’d better put our money where our mouth is, right?)? We work directly with a local shelter and outreach program, Haven House, and we also work directly both with law enforcement and with law enforcement/public safety training programs around child abuse, domestic violence and hate crimes. And as part of a huge strategy meeting we’re having this week with LEAPS.TV, we will be discussing the potential power–and pitfalls–of a social media strategy, and using this recent Facebook “campaign” as an example.

What are you doing to enact change? Tell us about it; we’d love to know, and we think the world would like to know, too! Perhaps your actions will inspire others to act as well.

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