Done your bit for charity lately? Run a 10k, perhaps, or organized a yard sale of last season’s unwanted clothes to benefit a deserving cause? These are certainly effective ways of raising funds and awareness, but there’s a more modern approach that’s suddenly all the rage. It also happens to be easier and more immediate. Welcome to the world of internet activism, via which online petitions and Instagram selfies can incorporate a simple “like” into a far-reaching global campaign. But is this real activism or is it, as some suggest, the lazy option?
Selfie campaigns are the fashionable favorite of celebrities. On the one hand, they’re easy to take part in: take photo, upload with hashtag, job done. On the other hand, critics say they’re an exercise in vanity, the perfect vehicle for celebs to promote themselves rather than the cause in question. Then there’s the no-brainer Facebook campaign. Repost the worthy cause of your choice, add your name to a petition, throw in a tweet for good measure, then sit back and bask in your generosity. All without leaving the sofa. Hence the moniker “slacktivism,” the term given to this too-easy form of awareness-raising and activism.
So is the Facebook like as meaningful as we think? Or does passively liking and retweeting give us a false sense that we’re making a difference? “This is an easy way to get involved,” says Poorna Bell, executive editor and global lifestyle head of the Huffington Post UK. “But people who truly want to make a difference do know that liking a post isn’t going to get things done, that they have to be more involved than that.”
Those creating the campaigns are quick to flag up the benefits. Fashion-focused campaigns, in particular, are a proven way to capture attention in a way that everyone can join in with. Take the #nomakeupselfie of 2014. What started organically became a global cancer awareness campaign in which women posted their make-up free photos on social media, tagging their friends to build momentum. Seeing its potential to raise funds, Cancer Research UK set up a text number to turn the viral hashtag into an altruistic campaign. It raised £2 million for charity in its first few days – all achieved by a few taps on smartphones.
Make-up artist Linda Andersson created a similar visually led campaign called Red Lippy Project to highlight Cervical Screening Awareness Week last June. Supporters tweeted a photo of themselves in their favorite red lipstick with the #redlippyproject hashtag, to engage young women in a conversation about the importance of smear tests. “For the Red Lippy Project, we wanted to create something that everyone could easily participate in,” says Linda Andersson. “It might sound simple to ask women to wear red lipstick for a week and post a picture on Instagram with a hashtag, but it’s proven to be an effective and easy way to spread the message to friends, family and co-workers.”
The beauty of this sort of online awareness campaign is its ability to stimulate discussion. Commenting on Facebook stirs debate in a way that offline conversation doesn’t, especially when it comes to “heavy” subjects such as disease, war and politics. It seems we’re more willing to discuss uncomfortable subjects from behind a computer screen. Fashion makes an ideal messenger, in this sense. A “pretty” industry, it can beautify “ugly” topics so that instead of scrolling past with a “that’s too horrific” attitude, we are drawn in by a striking image that we’re compelled to share or know more about. And, when it comes to the highly topical and fashionable selfie, well, everyone can relate to a human face and add their own to the mix. Last summer’s ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a prime example. Fashion companies donated thousands of pounds to charity, not to mention raised awareness for the little-known motor neurone disease/ALS, thanks to the industry’s most famous influencers taking on the challenge in creative and entertaining ways.
Political issues can be controversial, but become more palatable when given a style spin. BuzzFeed’s India Needs Feminism photo campaign saw local celebrities and campaigners using fashion as a hook to get a conversation trending. Supporters snapped selfies with handwritten statements such as “I climbed the ladder of success in heels. This is what a leader looks like, get used to it.” The result was a viral campaign that inspired young people to do more to spread the word and champion the cause.
Fashion triumphs when online and offline campaigning work in tandem, creating a call to action that’s about more than clicking a thumbs-up button. Alongside an Instagram campaign, EVER Manifesto produced an eco-conscious collection with H&M. Tweeting a selfie or online petition, backed up by a donation or action, is an ideal way to put your money where your mouth is. “There is no doubt that the internet and social media are important tools for raising awareness and communicating ideas,” says EVER Manifesto’s Elizabeth von Guttman. “But reality goes beyond sharing or likes. Make your intentions reality by committing them into actions.”
Comment if you think that likes can bring about a change 😉