Friday, January 18, 2013

Breast Cancer Awareness on Facebook


Surely you all remember the days when our inboxes weren’t as thoroughly fortified against spam as they are now, and we would be inundated with forwarded nonsense from our friends. Well – maybe our friends still send us junk mail, but it was a whole lot worse a few years ago. Most of these messages would make bizarre statements about life and luck, and require the use to forward it to ‘x’ amount of recipients for a proportionally large amount of good fortune.

Attribution: aglie
Younger people, in particular, will probably fondly recall the times when they would receive an Email urging them to hold their breath and make a wish for the duration of scrolling down to the bottom of the message. If the reader complied, they were assured that their adolescent crush would bloom into a life of love and happiness – so long as the message was forwarded to 40 more people.

These things are silly, right? Nobody actually believed that some inconsequential online activity like sending an Email could actually impact their future – that following the instructions of a piece of junk mail could make their dreams come true. None of us really believed these things, but I’m darn sure that every one of us participated anyway.

These little forwarded tidbits were just frivolous. Nobody was anything more than annoyed at them, because they had nothing to say: they weren’t newsworthy, they weren’t harmful, and they certainly weren’t ever taken seriously. Now we live in a different age: the age of social media. Whereas we used to sit back and experience online community more passively, these new modes of communication are enabling us to assimilate and spread not just spam, but serious ideas about the things that have meaning to us. But despite the fact that our communicative avenues have changed, our online interests and activities still have not.

For some time now, there has been this little ‘game’ circulating the social webspace. The game urges women, and women only, to post arbitrary words on their walls that represent their relationship statuses. The words serve as a sort of code that only women on the mailing list would understand: BLUEBERRY=single; PINEAPPLE=it’s complicated; APPLE=engaged. Presumably this would just be a meaningless effort to engender camaraderie among a nebulous online community of females, but the game goes a step further. It operates under the guise of primarily serving to raise awareness about breast cancer.

The game seems innocuous enough, but it has a lot of people enormously offended by how it unintentionally mitigates the seriousness of breast cancer and how it affects communities everywhere. Rather than distributing educational, meaningful education about the disease, these people are convinced that they are showing their support on a very real, very austere subject through these basic little code words.

Attribution: Novopress
Nevertheless, people still participate. A previous effort used types of underwear as the code words that translated to a person’s relationship status brought the Facebook initiative national attention through news coverage. People just can’t resist this petty little online pathos and, in turn, feel obligated to take part in it. This is why our early-internet mindset can still do some harm and create offense with the new ways that we communicate. We are now able to reach and influence so many more people online, but we still prefer to engage the flimsy, meaningless stuff as opposed to the robust, meaningful material that can help us enact change and awareness about an issue.

People are even criticizing the game for its sexism, as it is an activity reserved strictly for the female community. Although women represent the vast majority of cancer victims, there are still men who develop breast cancer, not to mention the countless men who have lost a spouse, daughter, mother, or friend to the illness – this game isn’t conducive to corporate solidarity within the breast cancer community because it neglects to include a huge population that the disease regularly affects.

The truth is that breast cancer absolutely not a game. It is a distressing reality that looms over our generation and every generation to come if we fail to generate real awareness that leads to a solution. Breast cancer can and will affect us, which means that we need to be equally as tenacious when it comes to education and prevention. Places like Frisco Women’s Health are determined to help inform about and prevent the disease in our community. We need to know that sufficient breast cancer awareness does not come from our Facebook news feeds.

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