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Why Changing Your Profile Picture Means Nothing


Over the past few days, I kept seeing my Facebook friends change their profile pictures to cartoon characters. I’m a huge geek, as are many of my friends, so at first, I notice a few Pokemon pictures. I thought it had something to do with a new video game coming out or something. Then Disney princesses and Sponge Bob started showing up. Yet, I had no clue what was going on. Apparently, this was another Facebook trend that you had to be one of the “cool kids” to understand, like when everyone was shouting out their bra colors a few months ago.

Finally, I saw someone post about it. Apparently, everyone on Facebook is supposed to change their profile picture to a cartoon character from their childhood for the weekend to show support for the prevention of child abuse.

Cue me rolling my eyes.

Let me say right now that I 100% support an end to child abuse. I used to work at a day care and saw first hand how horrible the effects of abuse can be. Most of the cause-related memes that hit social media are for issues that I fully support.

But how exactly does changing my profile picture change anything.

The “Raise Awareness” Argument

Whenever I bitch about these types of social media campaigns, the most common angry response I get is this: It raises awareness. Even if you aren’t out there stopping predators from abusing children, you’re reminding people that this is an issue.

Ok, I agree with this in some cases, but most of the time it just makes me roll my eyes a second time. Is it an issue that isn’t widely known? Then, that makes sense. Child abuse? Breast cancer? The extinction of *insert your favorite cute animal here*? I already know that these are huge problems in the world! I don’t need you to remind me.

If your cause is for something that most people do not know about, then by all means, start some kind of Facebook craze to raise awareness. As you’re changing your picture, ask yourself this: is doing so actually going to inform someone who had no idea that the problem exists?

Where’s Your Call To Action?

The “raise awareness” bull is only enhanced by the fact that people aren’t voicing their concerns over the issue. It took me THREE DAYS to figure out why everyone was changing their profile pictures to cartoon characters. If you honestly want to raise awareness, why aren’t you using the weekend to post often about why you changed your picture? Talk about the issue if it is important to you!

One of the silliest things I saw was a few months ago on Twitter when people were refusing to tweet for the day – I believe that was in support of autism. It makes no sense to me to refuse to talk about a cause in order to show your support of the cause. Instead, it should been a campaign where if you want to support autism, for the day you’re going to do nothing by tweet about autism – stats, links to how to donate, etc.

Most of all, what I hate about these cause memes is that there’s no actual call to action to help most of the time. Raising awareness is great – but who cares if every single person in the world is aware that child abuse exists? If no one actually does anything, it doesn’t matter. If you change your profile picture, give your friends/followers/fans a link where they can go to donate. In looking on Facebook for an answer as to why people were changing their profile pictures, I saw ONE link to a child abuse charity where I could donate.

And it was from someone who basically said, “Changing your picture is stupid. Here’s a link to donate instead.”

You can even get creative with it! For example, I think the “social media death” campaign that’s going on with a bunch of celebrities right now makes a ton of sense. Until fans donate however much money to a cause, you won’t be on Twitter/Facebook. Now that’s a call to action. You can even support if you don’t have the means to donate by passing around the link for others to do so. But just changing your picture doesn’t actually get anything done.

Abuse is not Trendy

While trying to figure out why avatar pictures were changing, I asked a few people what was going on. Three of them – THREE – said, “I don’t know. I just saw that people were changing their pictures, so I decided to do it too.”

Ok, I understand that showcasing your favorite cartoon character is cute, but child abuse should not be trendy! That’s the risk you run when you have no explanation or call to action. People just jump on the bandwagon because they want to be one of the cool kids, but at that point you’re not raising awareness at all!

I especially resent the thought that people are somehow going to think I’m a bad person if I don’t change my picture too. It’s not that I don’t support the prevention of child abuse. I just don’t like changing my profile picture. Beyond that, crap like this is going on constantly. It becomes white noise if I’m constantly asking people to donate to this cause or that cause. So, I’ve chosen the issue that is extremely important to me, and I focus on that.

A Final Thought

If you want to change your picture, awesome. Just tell me why, and give me something I can do to actually make a difference.

Right now, people are talking about child abuse, but the issue that is most important in my life is suicide prevention. So, to end this post, my call to action is this: Please consider learning more about my favorite charity, To Write Love On Her Arms, and consider making a donation to this or another charity this holiday season.


  • Eleanor

    Bellissimo! Passionate, Caring, and a call to action!

    I agree changing your profile picture to a cartoon does not speak volumes! If I was going to change my profile picture it would be to the brand of the cause I want to draw attention to! And with free services like Gimp it would be easy to add the link to the website or a call to action on the picture you are replacing as your profile pix!

  • angela

    way to be grinchy.

  • Veronica Maria Jarski

    Excellent points, Allison.

    I think the problem with “awareness” is that it doesn’t necessarily mean anything is going to happen. I can be “aware” that there’s a fire in my kitchen, but unless I act and do something to prevent that fire, my “awareness” is worthless.

    If you care about a cause, you work for it. You raise money for it, you donate time and energy to it, you participate in helping people affected by it. All of this requires lots of time, which most people guard jealously. But, it’s so much easier to just change an avatar pic or put on a ribbon than to move …

    Thanks for your thoughtful post. And for reminding me to get involved on a deeper level in a cause.

  • Cristian Gonzales

    You make some good points, and I think for the most part I’m on the same page with you.

    However, your post comes off as incredibly angry, which is a huge turn off for me as a reader.

    If you want to make a point, so be it. But there’s a way to do it without being as ‘harsh’ as you are in this post. Granted that’s my interpretation of course, but it seems to be the consensus of some others as well.

    Merry Xmas.

  • PoeWar

    Why did I change my profile? because it was the very definition of “the least I could do”. Oh, and because I wanted an excuse to put up a picture of Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman. I agree that it won’t make a big difference, but what the heck.

  • Deb Ng

    I don’t usually participate in Facebook memes because I kind of agree with you. Changing your profile won’t change a thing. However, do we know many of the people changing their photos aren’t taking action? Do we know that all the brouhaha doesn’t cause people to stop and think and maybe give to a charity? I don’t know.

    Sometimes, with all that’s going on in the world people tend to feel helpless. We can give, but does it get into the right hands? We can blog but is it really making a difference? If changing a picture makes people feel as if they’re taking a stand or a step in the right direction, I certainly can’t fault them for that, and I certainly won’t fault them for showing solidarity for a cause they believe in.

    As for me? I just wanted to be a cartoon character for a few days.

  • J

    Question: Would you have made this blog if people weren’t changing their Facebook profile pictures? Isn’t the fact that this is even being discussed at raising awareness?

    Awareness brings an issue to the forefront, giving people a reason to talk about it (because child abuse doesn’t just pop up in everyday conversation) Hopefully, the attention that something like this raises will lead to some kind of action being done. Would taking action like making a donation be better? Of course it would, and perhaps people who weren’t even thinking about donating to a charity to help fight child abuse will.

  • Michele McGraw

    I agree that just changing the profile pic without a call to action is pointless. But what I think changing the profile picture does is make you wonder what is going on because you notice a change. This is where it’s lost though. I don’t think that the figuring our part should be so tough. It shouldn’t take 3 days.

    People should be posting and shouting out why they are changing their profile picture and offering the call to action.

    But if you are the person who changes their profile picture for every cause…it’s not going to mean anything either. Pick 1 or 2 causes that you are really passionate about and BE PASSIONATE about them. Don’t feel the need to jump on the bandwagon for every cause.

    I prefer the profile pics that have the logo or sign of the cause on their regular picture better. If I see the pink ribbon on a profile pic, I know that person is passionate about breast cancer. If I see the autism puzzle on another, I know they are passionate about autism. I also would hope that if I go to their blog, I will find ways to help those causes.

  • Megan

    This is SO true…It is non-constructive to just go and change your profile picture…imagine if everyone who had changed their profile picture gave even just 10p to the NSPCC- that would really make a difference!

    The other reason I will not be changing my profile picture is to do with an article I read the other day, a couple of weeks ago some friends had a bet on who could get the most people to change their profile picture. They started this cartoon thing a few weeks ago,but it never really took off- however,as soon as they introduced the ‘child abuse’ tag line then it went viral. I refuse to participate in someone’s game and sincerely hope that the bet money the person made goes straight to the NSPCC,to profit from this would be DISGUSTING!

  • Nikki

    While it may not actually “mean nothing” – it certainly doesn’t hurt anything to participate.

    Yes – action is always the best policy. And yes, I changed my avatar and IMMEDIATELY posted about it – because I don’t want people thinking I’ve decided to be Judy Jetson for no apparent reason!

    I’ve also seen the flip side – where a campaign took place and people questioned why you did NOT participate (depending on which circle you ride in).

    • Michele McGraw

      But just because you don’t change your profile pic doesn’t mean you don’t participate. I never change my profile picture mostly because I just don’t like to do it. But if I have a cause I’m passionate about I’ll tweet to information or I’ll write a post about it or I’ll donate money.

      I sure hope no one is passing judgement on others based on whether they SAW that someone participated in a campaign. There are so many ways you can participate and it’s not always public. And if someone is passing judgement on me because I didn’t change my profile pic to a cartoon character, then so be it. But I’d rather someone get to know me before they start passing judgement.

      And maybe it’s because they just didn’t see it. I’ll be honest. I saw the cartoon characters and I never thought twice about it. I didn’t realize it was for a cause until I read the post here. I check my Facebook daily too. And because there are so many of those memes out there, I’ve stopped caring about them. I don’t pay attention to it anymore.

  • Alli

    I would just like to make an extra note saying that I don’t think that anyone’s a bad person if they decide to participate is stuff like this. I just think it’s misguided to do something trendy without also talking about the cause, linking to places to donate, etc. and think you’re a better person than me because I chosen not to change my avatar. It’s a culture of “do nothing and pat yourself on the back for it.” As bloggers and social media-ers, we have an incredible opportunity to get our voices heard – to actually raise awareness!

  • Judy Helfand

    Hi Alli and Deb,
    I read both of your posts. It didn’t take me long to figure out the campaign on Facebook, as I don’t have that many FB friends, so it is easy enough to scroll through and find the latest TREND. I actually gave some thought to changing my AVATAR (a word a really don’t care for) to comply with the meme (another phrase that annoys me), but then I thought to myself…I am way too old and have enjoyed way too many cartoon characters over the years and I don’t own the rights to any of these copyrighted drawings…so I did not change my avatar. Imagine how many would have changed their avatar had a wealthy person offered to donate some amount to a child abuse foundation for every changed avatar.

    Today I read another post http://vanillabean45.wordpress.com/2010/12/05/facebook-meme-more-insulting-than-helpful/ maybe you have seen it. Quite compelling.

    I thank you both for writing and sharing your ideas. My thought is this…love the children you have and they will pass it on.


  • Amy A

    Obviously all those who changed their picture didn’t do all they could, and we all know that they never will. But why stand on the sidelines righteously pointing out how shallow everyone else is? It’s a shitty sort of jaded-hipsterish holier-than-thou kind of smug sarcasm. Does the article’s author also get all up in arms when it’s World Aids Day and decide that all messages/images of support are crap and she’ll call everyone else out and decide to promote her own shit? Why not just get on board and support the cause at hand??

  • Bob SImonson

    Quit crying. Why waste time bitching when people out there are spreading the word.

  • Amvxosa Aco

    Who would know if changing profile picture can change the life of a “child abused”? But AT LEAST Facebook user still catch their attention to open their eyes wide and make them realize that not all children are enjoying their childhood period. Perhaps, for the facebook user who’s not aware that they already abusing their children. I think we must support the people that are really wanted to have a long life than a people who are just wasting and wanted to end their life by themselves. And who knows that the one who commits suicide is being ‘abused’? It doesn’t make any sense for the other but for the victim at least they just remembered.

  • Jennifer Gleason

    I know this is an old post, but I had to comment and say how much I agreed with you on all points of this.

    And thank you for ending your post with TWLOHA. <3

  • Lily

    I can’t agree with you more.. I had no idea what the change of photo meant because not a single person on my friends list would talk about it or explain to me. Few said “support” “awareness” “political” … they’d rather type a whole sentence of ambiguous gibberish than to type 2 words or sending a link explaining the meaning behind the picture/situation. It’s a poor form of promotion, when they act like it’s a secret society and sort of share some implicit, unspoken bond between them and others who changed their pictures/know what it’s about. In addition, Child abuse grew exponentially after profile picture saga, no difference was made

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