The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Thursday, January 14, 2010

How Not to Make People Aware

So, if you are a member of a social networking site, then there is a fair chance that you have seen the women on your "friends" list posting a color for their status over the last week.

Supposedly, this was a campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer. I say supposedly because, as is so often the case, the notion that this is intended to increase breast cancer awareness is probably a post-hoc explanation of the rather weird activity. It looks like this actually began as a chain letter/thing-to-do-while-bored-on-the-internet, and had nothing to do with breast cancer awareness...

...which shouldn't surprise anyone as this is a lousy way to try to raise awareness of anything. For those who weren't included on emails notifying them of this particular activity, it just appeared that our friends were using colors as non-sequitor status updates. This was mildly amusing when we discovered what the colors signified, but not something that made us think about breast cancer or much of anything else.

So, how was this to raise awareness for breast cancer? When I have aksed this, the response I keep being given is that posting the bra color gets people to think about breasts, which gets them to think about breast cancer.

Okay, first off, if you happen to be one of the majority of people who didn't know what this was all about while it was going on (remember, 50% of the population is male and wasn't included, and a large portion of women weren't either, meaning the majority of people, even the majority of Facebook users, weren't privy to what was going on), then the who "post a color" thing was just plain nonsensical and didn't make us think of either breasts or cancer, much less both at the same time.

Secondly, if thinking about breasts is all that is necessary to raise awareness of breast cancer, then it follows that Playboy magazine is at the forefront of the fight against breast cancer. Don't buy that argument in favor of Hugh Hefner's empire? Neither do I.

Third, even if you get people to think about breast cancer, so what? If you are not providing useful information on prevention or detection, or at least telling people that such information exists and that they should ask their health care provider to help them out, then you are failing. You would be hard-pressed to find a person in the developed world who has not heard of breast cancer, so mentioning that it exists is not enough if you want to actually make any sort of impact - it's rather like the people I knew in college who thought that they were politically active because they sat around and talked about politics, but never actually voted.

Hell, if getting people to think of the existence of breast cancer is all that is necessary to make an impact, then I urge everyone reading this to go to the nearest shopping mall and yell the words "breast cancer" as loudly as you can. You are guaranteed to be at least as effective in raising awareness as the Facebook bra color gambit.

So, contrary to what the spokesperson for the Susan G. Komen foundation had to say*, this probably didn't raise people's awarenss of anything other than how easy it is to get people to do things on the internet.

But, hey, why listen to me. If you'd rather, here's another person on the subject.

*But note that she followed up her statements by urging people to become educated about breast cancer - in other words, even a person saying that this was good for raising awareness felt it necessary to actually add something to it to make it somehow actually relate to the subject that it is allegedly about. Hmmmm...

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