By Jean Park
“Now until Dec. 6 change your profile picture to one of a cartoon character from your childhood and invite your friends to do the same. The objective of this is not to see any human faces on Facebook but an invasion of memories for the fight against violence to children. Remember, we were kids too…pass it on to a friend,” read the caption under Esther Lee’s ’11 default image on Facebook, which was a picture of the beloved animated character “D.W. Read” from the ’90s television series on PBS called “Arthur.”
“I did it because D.W. is my favorite character of all time and what better way to show it than in support of a good cause,” Lee said.
Just reading the words “join the fight against child abuse” was enough for a large fraction of the 500 million active Facebook users to reminisce about the ritual Saturday morning shows.
Cartoon characters from childhood shows such as “Rugrats,” “SpongeBob Squarepants,” “The Proud Family” and various Disney characters flooded the home pages of many Facebook users by the beginning of December.
“I decided to do it because it raises awareness. Pink ribbons don’t cure breast cancer, but it has the ability to remind people of the cause. Now many more people are talking about it and it’s the first step to moving forward,” Lily Cha ’11 said, whose default image was a picture of “Courage the Cowardly Dog.”
The Facebook page dedicated to this cause informed users, stating that it “is a non-profit campaign from an unnamed volunteer who aims to raise awareness about Worldwide Violence Against Children and Child Abuse through simple gesture of changing your Facebook Profile Picture into your favorite childhood cartoon characters. Changing your profile pictures is only the first step.”
The page also included the website for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, where people could select from a list of child protection and welfare organizations and donate to the charity of their choice.
The fight against cruelty to children was reminiscent of the one against breast cancer, which surfaced onto Facebook as many female users updated their statuses to raise Breast Cancer Awareness. Last year, women were asked to post the color of their underwear, and this year they posted “where they like to put their purse.”
This campaign, however, revealed a flaw. Many television networks and news tabloids claimed that there were “rumors that pedophiles are behind the viral Facebook campaign.”
To use a cartoon character to hide one’s identity seemed like a plausible idea for some students on Facebook.
“Actually, I did get a request from someone who had the same name as one of my friends and he had a picture of a Simpsons character as his profile picture so I accepted him on Facebook, but turns out it wasn’t actually him,” Lael Pollack ’11 said. “There are so many times when random people try to add you and it’s hard when something like cartoon characters become a big trend because you can’t tell.”
Spokesmen for Facebook squashed the rumors and paid more attention to the significant impact the campaign has had on the cause. The NSPCC has been receiving many donations and is welcome to the attention the trend has given it.
“This rumor is false,” Facebook spokesman Simon Axten said. “Thousands of people have taken up the campaign, none of whom can be identified as either young or old based on the profile picture chosen.”
Despite the rumors, the last official day of the campaign has passed and many users of the social network continued to keep their cartoon characters on their profile pages.
“Even if I didn’t donate money to the cause, it’s still helpful to spread the word,” Cha said. “Plus, seeing all of the characters on the shows I used to watch as a kid brings back a lot of fun memories.”