In Defence of Liberty

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Between Selfies and Social Media

‘Selfies’ – self-taken photographs – are currently coagulating our social media streams. Spreading by nominations, hundreds of thousands of women are taking pictures of themselves, denude of makeup; donating small amounts to cancer research groups and claiming to raise cancer awareness. In six days, Cancer Research UK has received over £8m, and £135,000 was given to Breast Cancer Campaign. The Institute of Cancer Research has similarly benefitted from this campaign.

Despite receiving a large bounty of donations, Cancer Research UK did not initiate this particular phenomenon. According to Jemima Kiss of The Guardian: “The idea itself appears to have begun last week when American crime author Laura Lippman tweeted a picture of herself without makeup in support of Kim Novak, the 81-year-old actor whose looks had been criticised at the Oscars.”  When the charity was alerted to the social media trend, it asked users to include donations and the text code with their photographs, thereby resurrecting an earlier failed campaign.

James Elliot, the Head of Digital Engagement at Breast Cancer Campaign, said: “It’s great to see so many people getting involved and coming together to help raise money and awareness of cancer.” According to a British population survey in 2008, 68% of the public openly recall that a lump or swelling is a tumour symptom, compared to just 5% that recognised the symptom of an unsealing sore. Unusual swellings are typically associated with breast cancer, making it the most recognisable form of cancer in Britain. Breast cancer is also the most common cancer, even though it is rare in men. In this survey, less than 20% of participants recalled that a persistent cough is a sign of lung cancer. There is now a National Health Service campaign focussed on unrelenting coughs, as lung cancer accounts for one in four of all male cancer deaths.

Most people in Britain recognise that an unusual swelling is a sign of cancer. (Photo: )

Most people in Britain recognise that an unusual swelling is a sign of cancer. (Photo: NCBI)

If it exists, the link between taking a photograph without makeup and the nebulous goal of raising cancer awareness is opaque. If the claim is that appearing with no makeup is ‘brave’, like fighting a deathly disease requires bravery, then stepping into a bath must be quite similar to drowning in a torrential river. Furthermore, makeup often masks beauty – a somewhat subjective ideal – rather than enhancing it. A Bangor University study concluded both men and women “found faces more attractive when they were wearing less makeup”.

Spontaneous Order

Despite any moral gelatinousness, the campaign has garnered a substantial amount of money for cancer research and demonstrated the power of social media. Through sharing amongst friends in sprawling networks, spontaneous order can be created. Large organisations can latch onto existing trends. This is particularly potent with charitable groups, where charity may be induced by social pressures and expectations. Cancer Research UK raised about £460m of donated income in 2012-13, and has reaped over £8m in just six days of a single promotion.

Self-taken photographs have spread across social media. (Photo: Facebook/Cerian Jenkins)

Self-taken photographs have spread across social media. (Photo: Facebook/Cerian Jenkins)

Cerian Jenkins, a University of Bath politics student who is currently writing a dissertation entitled ‘Social Media and the Evolving Nature of Third Sector Engagement’, said:

People are quick to dismiss the notion of online activism as nothing more than ‘slacktivism’ but, whilst this may be true in some cases, we shouldn’t ignore the potential of online campaigning and engagement. We need only look at the sum of money raised for cancer charities by this latest campaign to see that social media campaigning hold a viable place within fundraising.

As the mortality rate for cancer swells when the diagnosis is later, cancer awareness movements should ideally recognise the major symptoms. The ‘no makeup selfie’ campaign fails in this regard, but it has raised a fantastic amount of research funds.

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4 comments on “Between Selfies and Social Media

  1. Dick Puddlecote
    March 26, 2014

    Where the no make up selfie meme failed IMO is that a valiant grass roots idea was hijacked by a massive business (i.e. CRUK). This kind of behaviour is what I think is utterly vile about CRUK.

    The original, laudable, premise was to raise awareness of cancer (OK, ignore the fact that we are all very aware of it) by posting selfies and donating to “cancer charities” of which there are thousands, mostly local. But then CRUK rowed the wave and waded in with their text donation (lazy) option, thereby diverting £8m to their half billion per annum operation – complete with 48% fundraising staff and 189 employees earning over £60k – instead of local charities and hospices which are already struggling for funds due to CRUK corporate dominance.

    I know of two local cancer charities in my area who are perennially starved of funds due to the public saying “I’ve already given to CRUK” when they are asked for donations. They quite rightly get angry and frustrated at this. The best thing CRUK could have done with the selfie craze would have been to admit it is not their concern and instead to have taken the opportunity to “raise awareness” of local charities instead of seizing on it to hoover up funds for their own already bloated self-perpetuation exercise.

    It’s odd that so many see greed in private businesses without recognising the same destructive and selfish trait in CRUK.

    • Anthony Masters
      March 26, 2014

      The aim to raise cancer awareness really is laudable, but it does require the illumination of indicator symptoms, which are really useful in the case of early diagnosis.

      It’s certainly odd that we often hear about market shares of business, but we never seem to hear about donation shares of charities. CRUK does have some strange priorities for its spending, which all comes under the tent of ‘cancer research’ on their public accounts, such as funding tobacco control groups.

      I’m happy to share the details of those two local cancer charities on Twitter and elsewhere, in order to help them get donations.

  2. I still think there is room to give to both international and local charity’s on this issue, but I guess the internationals will also have more awareness raised with campaigns like this

  3. Pingback: iCampaign: The Power of Social Media | In Defence of Liberty

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