Arts & Culture

Cartoon characters profile photos in FB heighten child abuse awareness


IF you open your Facebook account and start seeing thumbnail photos of Dragon Ball, Garfield, cartoon characters from Disney or anime as your friends’ profile pictures instead of their actual portraits, do not fret. It’s the latest Internet meme that has swept the popular social networking site.

And it is for a good cause: to heighten awareness on violence against children.

Facebook users in the Philippines started changing their profile pictures this week, after a status message began circulating about the awareness campaign. According to the status message, Facebook users should have their cartoon profile pictures until Dec. 6.

“By Monday (Dec. 6) you can’t see a single human face on Facebook but an invasion of childhood memories for the fight against child abuse,” read the status message.

A meme is a concept or idea that spreads through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Internet memes are seen as cost-effective advertising or PR tools to push for buzz around a certain product or concept. The 2006 film, “Snakes on a Plane,” generated positive buzz through this form of advertising.

According to Wikipedia, the word meme originated with Dawkins’ 1976 book The Selfish Gene. To emphasize commonality with genes, Dawkins coined the term “meme” by shortening “mimeme,” which derives from the Greek word mimema (“something imitated”).

It is unclear when the Facebook campaign on child abuse actually began and who initiated it. But according to a post on the website (, the campaign began as early as Nov. 22 and ended a week later.

It is also unclear whether the time period for the  awareness campaign has any significance on the plight of abused children. The United Nations does not mark Dec. 6 or Nov. 22 as a day of observance on violence against children. The closest dates the UN commemorates a day related to children or human rights in general are on Nov. 20 (Universal Children’s Day) and Dec. 10 (Human Rights Day).

The unidentified poster is aware of the enormity of the problem and the limitations of social media. “It is clear that the situation (sic) violence against children and child labor will not be reversed by putting cartoon pictures on Facebook,” the post read.

But, the post continued, it “is a way of promoting social awareness to take further actions to change the situation.”

Child abuse is a rampant in the Philippines. According to 2009 data culled by the country’s Department of Social Welfare and Development, a total of 6, 522 children aged 0 to 17 have been victims of abuse.

The highest number of child abuse cases come from Region IX or the Zamboanga Peninsula with 1, 485 reported cases, followed by Region VII (867), the National Capital Region (663) and Region III (660). The DSWD classified the abuse on children as victims of abandonment, neglect, rape, acts of lasciviousness, prostitution, pedophilia, pornography, cyber pornography, maltreatment, child labor, illegal recruitment, child trafficking and armed conflict.

Of the reported cases, most abuses happened to children aged 14 and below (1,862), with mostly girls as victims (1,491). Sexual abuse remains as the top reported case in this age group.

Studies also revealed that while children are told to beware of strangers, their abusers are usually known to them. Relatives, neighbors, teachers and school personnel have been named in several child abuse cases.

Several Facebook users outside the Philippines have lauded the Filipinos’ efforts to end child abuse through the social networking site.

“This is really touching, and encouraging, a warming (sic) feelings to know that in a simple way u can extend help for others, ” said Facebook user, Kendi.

“It’s nice to see that many Filipinos are helping one another in promoting social awareness in violence issues that need to be addressed,” another Facebook user said.

This is not the first time a Facebook meme caught the fancy of Filipino users. Last January, Facebook users, predominantly women, began posting the color of their brassiere on their status message as part of a global campaign for breast cancer awareness. The campaign was made despite the fact that breast cancer awareness month falls in October.

Filipino-initiated memes also came out in August 2009, when Facebook users began donning yellow ribbons or “twibbons” on their profile pictures to condole with the family of former President Corazon Aquino. Aquino, who used the color yellow during her political campaign in the 1980s, died on Aug. 1 of colon cancer.

In November last year, journalists also put black twibbons as their profile pictures to call for justice for the 32 members of the media who were brutally massacred in Maguindanao, purportedly by the powerful Ampatuan clan.