Believe it or not there was once a time where breast cancer awareness didn’t have the huge global following/support that it does today. Although many are currently aware that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month, I hadn’t remembered hearing much about this campaign growing up–even though the first efforts to popularize the pink ribbon occurred in the late eighties and early nineties (Source: http://pinkribbon.org/about/history/).
Even when my own aunt sadly succumbed to breast cancer back in 2010, I still only had a vague understanding of the cause, and had no idea that it needed the support that it did.
So why do breast cancer awareness organizations like Susan G. Komen have the loyal masses of followers that they do today?
Social media and cyberactivism.
With the rise of social media platform giants like Facebook and Twitter sprouting up over a decade ago, it was suddenly very easy to get the message known around the world that women (and men) are dying from this horrible form of cancer; it also made us aware that we need to work together as a collective to find a cure and make treatment both affordable and accessible.
In short, thanks in part to social media we could be all be online activists spreading a message of change without having to relocate ourselves to central headquarters. Much like with Warby Parker (discussed here at https://bit.ly/try-this-one-on) online users felt connected through shared testimonials and similar experiences. This time though it was people who knew, had known, or were someone with breast cancer.
Because statistically speaking, everyone will know someone in their lifetimes who contract this form of cancer. I have known several people, including close family members. The shared experience here is almost unavoidable.
In my social media class through SNHU, we’ve been examining a case study that talks about the popularity of sharing important messages like these through online platforms, but also the pitfalls of such efforts. Namely, the lack of active effort in helping the cause.
The question comes down to effective mobilization. Is it enough to simply get people to make a cause known?
According to our text Strategic Social Media: From Marketing to Social Change, mobilization is defined as “the process by which candidates, parties, activists, and groups induce other people to participate” (62). Mobilization is often times necessary for making a cause known quickly, but more importantly it gives audiences a chance to participate in the cause itself–through shared experiences. And in many cases, the way people share experiences is through humor.
For example, one Facebook meme early on suggested that women post the color of their bra. Much like people who play viral games online, the guess-my-bra-color post quickly caught fire because everyone had to try it for themselves, or at least figure out what all the buzz was about. Numerous people (including men) were suddenly drawn to these types of posts.
But like many good intentions on the internet, this plan was not without its criticism. Some found it to be a poor excuse for real activism, believing that “These types of memes allow individuals who want to help spread breast cancer awareness to put their efforts into a vague Facebook status instead of something more useful to the cause” (73). While the shared experience was noteworthy, many critics claimed that it simply wasn’t enough.
There was also a debate over whether the efforts were spreading enough awareness about the disease itself, since men who suffered from breast cancer were largely ignored in these online discussions.
The suggested remedy then is to connect these online efforts to real life efforts, such as “volunteering, donating money, signing a petition, or writing a letter” (73). When people are made aware of a cause they should also be made aware of what they can do to help. This is why many times now you will find links of where you can donate or volunteer to help support a cause you care about.
Like these great links right here:
- The Susan G. Komen website – https://ww5.komen.org/Donate/Donate.html
- The Breast Cancer Research Foundation – https://www.bcrf.org/
So what are your thoughts? Do you believe activism of any kind, even something as simple as sharing a funny picture online, is enough to spread awareness? Or do you think there is so much more we–as a collective–can do to spark change? Let me know with a comment below.
And because I’ve felt greatly inspired by what I’ve learned about the cause this week, I vow to donate this year in October to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
But until then, I’ll leave you with some awareness.
Mahoney, L. Meghan, and Tang Tang. Strategic Social Media: From Marketing to Social Change. John Wiley and Sons, 2016.