This past weekend, one of the latest Facebook trends picked up traction in the New Jersey area: switching your user profile picture to that of a cartoon character. You would often see the image change accompanied by something resembling the following message:
In support of child abuse prevention, change your Facebook profile picture to a cartoon character from your childhood. Until Monday, December 6th, there should be no human faces on Facebook, but an invasion of memories. Join the fight against child abuse, and invite your friends to do the same!
The trend was large enough to be briefly picked up by mainstream media outlets, but if your friends and family changed their images without passing along the accompanying message, you may have been left scratching your head.
As we often talk about with regard to Internet safety for children, it is important to know that anything you type online can and almost certainly will remain there indefinitely. While this is a concern, it simultaneously allows us to dig back and track down the original source for trends and campaigns like this.
The website Know Your Meme (warning: site content may be inappropriate for children) tentatively pins the original trend back to Facebook users in Greece and Cyprus, where the idea was to indeed switch out user images for cartoon characters, but with the goal simply being an innocent game to remove all actual human faces from Facebook for a few days.
As with most “memes” (think of them as exaggerated games of telephone that mutate and take on their own form with each passing day, with the “joke” being to get as many people to regurgitate it as possible), it transformed into an awareness campaign for child abuse prevention. Everything about the “game” remained the same from its Greek origins, except for that key point – assigning a genuine cause to it, albeit with an extremely loose connection.
That is one way in which social networking and media have really changed how our society reacts to and gets involved with campaigns. All it takes is one clever idea, a few friends to get it going, and anyone in the world can potentially change the way we view an issue. For that, we are thankful. Child abuse is a horrible crime, and one that we know can be prevented. We work every day with families, educators, and political leaders across the state to make sure that every child is safe, nurtured, and encouraged to learn. Prevention is the key to future success for these children.
And that is precisely why we would love to see all New Jerseyans get involved. There is so much more we can do. Changing your profile picture on Facebook is but one step along the way. The connection between a cartoon character and child abuse prevention is not a particularly strong one without the additional exposition (in fact, many users have been changing their profile pictures completely oblivious to the intentions of the larger movement), so we encourage everyone to broadcast the message loud and proud: child abuse CAN be prevented, and we can all be a part of that prevention. Simple things like reading to your child and learning how to manage temperaments throughout changing developmental stages can go a long way with creating that lifelong bond, and set the path to healthy relationships and successful parenting.
If you wish to join in and showcase your commitment to child abuse prevention, we recommend you think about some concrete ways that you can support the families around you. Visit our website and consider some of the ways we encourage families to get involved in their community. You might also consider changing your image to that of a pinwheel, which evokes memories of a carefree childhood. Each April, we celebrate Child Abuse Prevention Month and use the pinwheel as a symbol for these types of childhoods that we wish for and aim to create for everyone in New Jersey.
As a final note, it is expected that with any well-intentioned campaign on the Internet, there will be someone who wants to rain on the parade. There is a good chance that, if you have not already, you will see follow-up posts noting that the campaign was actually constructed by pedophiles to lure children into exposing their true identity (with the train of thought being that a child is more apt to go with an image of Spongebob than Betty Boop, showcasing their true age in the process). It is important to note that this, as we have seen by tracking down its original source, is absolutely false. There are far too many other ways in which an online predator would be looking for this type of information, and we know the ways in which they act and “groom” their potential victims – an area that Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey is actively participating in new research for additional preventative measures and programs.