This week, hundreds of posts featuring Disney characters have been popping up on Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook. What is all the fuss about? Each poster claims that it is Child Cancer Awareness Week, which he or she supports. It turns out that the people are victims of another internet hoax, similar to the chain emails that were once popular. In fact, there’s no such thing as a Child Cancer Awareness Week.
The fact is, most people know about cancer, and most people know that sometimes it attacks children. Posting online for likes and comments does not help these children, their families or cancer research. Raising awareness does not actually do anything to help anyone except perhaps the poster, who feels proud of his or her own asserted benevolence.
The realities of cancer are conspicuously absent in the smiling, beloved Disney characters and self-promoting posts. Childhood cancer is a serious illness, with 16,000 new cases diagnosed every year, and nearly 25 percent of the children do not survive. As the leading cause of death for children under the age of 15, this is such a significant illness that Childhood Cancer Awareness month is September, as announced by President Obama in a 2012 White House proclamation. During September, the American Childhood Cancer Organization sells silicon bracelets, car magnets, kits and other items to raise funds. The monies are desperately needed to fund research for a cure and provide support for families.
There is a dark side to all this raising awareness, which brings no tangible benefit to the disease or organizations seeking a cure. There is now a push to raise awareness about the problem of raising awareness in this social media craze.
In a Facebook campaign, UNICEF explains likes don’t save lives. To make the point hit home, they show a young girl receiving a vaccine along with the message “Like us on Facebook and we will vaccinate zero children against Polio. We have nothing against likes, but vaccines cost money. Please buy polio vaccines at unicef.se.” Ironically, these posts received hundreds of thousands of likes and shares from people, most of whom did not donate.
Another ad campaign created for Crisis Relief Singapore posted photos online under the title Liking Isn’t Helping. These photos feature people in terrible living conditions, or children with amputated limbs surrounded by people making the thumbs up motion, symbolizing how liking is not helping these people. The ad requests that people make a difference with the slogan: “Be a volunteer. Change a life” featured at the bottom of their photos.
Perhaps the social media generation needs to rethink its true purpose in raising awareness about childhood cancer. If they really want to help, perhaps rather than endorsing a chain letter they should encourage friends to skip the morning cappuccino and donate a few dollars to a charity. If everyone who posted a Disney character on social media donated just $3 to ACCO, it would generate tens of thousands of dollars, and bring us one step closer to a cure.