I don’t like new words like “glamping” and “staycation”. They are portmanteau neologisms invented by marketeers and adopted by insipid lifestyle journalists to lend weight to insubstantial trends.
But I have to admit that “slacktivism” – actions ostensibly in a good cause but too lazy to have a useful effect – has some allure. Several of my friends changed their profile pictures on Facebook recently in the name of protesting against violence to children. The more pious ones posted a message at the same time:
“Change your Facebook profile picture to a cartoon character from your childhood & invite your friends to do the same, for the NSPCC. Until Monday (6 Dec), there should be no human faces on Facebook, but an invasion of memories. This is a campaign to stop violence against children.”
This may seem like a Good Thing to do, but actually it has more in common with a chain letter than a charitable exercise. There is a small possibility that the people who changed their picture donated money to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (although there was no helpful link to the charity’s giving page) but I suspect that almost everyone who did it gave nothing. It may even be a Bad Thing: some people may feel that their supposedly good actions are a substitute for actual charitable activity.
It is a particularly stupid idea because not only will it fail to prevent the tiniest bit of violence, but it does not even raise awareness of a live issue. No one is in favour of violence against children, except perhaps recruiters of child soldiers and sadists. Even if Joseph Kony and Baby P’s mother were your friends on Facebook, it seems unlikely that this would change their minds.
This campaign wasn’t even supported by the NSPCC, although a spokeswoman did say they were “monitoring the results with interest”. Not that the NSPCC is a faultless charity anyway. More than a quarter of its charitable spending goes on income generation and governance – 28 per cent, in fact. This is way more than the RNLI (20 per cent), Save the Children (13 per cent), Comic Relief (10 per cent) or any other charity I could think of when searching the Charities Commission website. When the NSPCC says that £4 answers a child’s call for help on its telephone helpline Childline, it means that £2.88 answers the child’s call and £1.12 pays a bloke in a brightly coloured bib to hassle people in shopping precincts.
My friend D responded to the Facebook campaign yesterday by changing his profile picture to one of Lionel Richie and suggesting that by doing so he was helping to bring about peace in the Middle East. I followed his lead. I don’t wish to sound presumptious, but does anyone know whether I have to wear white tie at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, or can I just turn up in a suit?