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  • Samantha Simard

The Breast Cancer Meme Examined: How Cyberactivism Met Humor

When we consider the various methods of social media mobilization as it relates to marketing, one of the most powerful is cyberactivism. Like most social media mobilization opportunities, cyberactivism involves heavy user participation–specifically, user-generated media content. But cyberactivism is more than just making a video or tweet that changes a brand’s narrative; it’s individuals using the internet for a good cause. Let’s take a deeper dive into cyberactivism, and examine one prominent example of this phenomenon in closer detail.

How Does Cyberactivism Work?

Cyberactivism works by uniting individual users behind a singular cause that’s close to their hearts, such as a charity. The majority of people have at least one cause that’s close to their hearts, and oftentimes that cause is closely related to an individual’s life experiences or identity. This makes it so that users are naturally eager to share their favorite cause with their pre-existing network and ask them to join.

But why is cyberactivism usually so successful? Because when users in our networks are faced with genuine, empathetic calls to action, they are likely to respond or at least spread the message further. As a species, humans are naturally inclined to do the right thing, and if all that needs to be done is a like, share, or tweet, then it’s easy for us to follow through. Unfortunately, most of these efforts don’t result in real-life mobilization, but a savvy social media expert can change that.

All they have to do is look at the Breast Cancer Meme for guidance.

What is the Breast Cancer Meme and Why is it Important?

As you may already know, October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the United States. Many individuals share social media content from their favorite businesses and organizations that participate in acknowledging the cause, since it’s a low-effort way to show support. And because this is the internet, various forms of memes circulate to spread awareness.

The phenomenon known as the Breast Cancer Meme can be traced back to 2010, when a private message request on Facebook spread like wildfire asking females to put a single color as their status update. The females were asked to choose a color that was the same as the bra they were wearing, so the statuses would simply be their first name followed by a color. The idea behind the meme was to confuse males who logged on to Facebook and saw their female friends with bizarre statuses.

This is just one example of a fun way to raise awareness for breast cancer, and several versions of it have circulated over the past decade. A meme like the Breast Cancer Meme is successful because it diffuses a serious message into something fun, and it has an element of personalization to it. However, one must wonder if these lighthearted activities are actually a form of activism at all, since they are unlikely to spur real-life action to find a cure for breast cancer. While the Susan G. Komen Foundation reported an increase in donations following these popular viral memes, correlation is not causation. In other words, there’s no real way to know if the memes are linked to an uptick in action.

While memes of this nature might seem harmless on the surface, there are also those who take issue with the potential sexualization of the life-threatening topic of breast cancer. Organizations who want to start a social media mobilization campaign that relies on cyberactivism would do well to tie their messages to a real-life act of mobilization, such as signing a petition or donating money. That way the data could be properly tracked, and users could feel as though they were making a real contribution to the cause.

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