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Did the Facebook cartoon meme fail?

December 8, 2010 5:07pm

Tags: Facebook
The Facebook cartoon meme was fun while it lasted, but it garnered mixed results as a campaign strategy against child violence.

An analysis of popular searches reveals an increase in interest in some countries in child abuse and child violence, but not in the Philippines — despite the meme's runaway popularity here. Filipinos' interest in cartoons, however, picked up sharply, as it did in other countries.

Philippines leads the world in cartoon meme adoption

According to Google Insights, use of the search term "cartoon profile" picked up beginning on December 2 and snowballed sharply in the days leading up to December 6. Most search queries were from the Philippines, followed by the United States, Ireland, the UK, Canada, and Australia.

The Philippines led the way in worldwide searches for the keywords "cartoon profile" ahead of the US, Ireland, the UK, Canada, and Australia. GMANews.TV

On the other hand, the search term "child violence", as specifically mentioned in the meme, saw a corresponding rise in interest only in the US. The related search term "child abuse" also saw a corresponding increase, limited to the US, Canada, and the UK.

Surprisingly, use of "child violence" in searches from the Philippines was so low that there was "Not enough search volume to show graphs," according to Google Insights. And "child abuse" actually saw a decrease in searches from the Philippines, from December 4 to 6 —notwithstanding the fact that the country led the world in adopting the Facebook cartoon meme.

Searches using the key words "child abuse" from the Philippines actually decreased over the weekend. GMANews.TV

Supposedly meant to boost awareness of violence against children, the most common form of the Facebook meme bore the following message:

"Change your Facebook profile picture to a cartoon from your childhood and invite your friends to do the same. Until Monday (December 6), there should be no human faces on Facebook, but a stash of memories. This is for eliminating violence against children."

Top search queries: nothing about child abuse

Initially, the meme seemed to attract more interest in cartoons per se than in child abuse.

US-based search engine optimization expert Alex Bennert noted that, on the evening of December 3, Friday in the US, the most popular searches on Google pertained to cartoons.

Her screen capture of Google Hot Searches at the time showed that 16 of the top 20 search terms in the US were about cartoons.

Search engine specialist Alex Bennert uploaded this screengrab via Twitpic, showing that 15 of the 20 top search terms on Google on the evening of December 3 pertained to cartoons. Source: Alex Bennert

Even in the end-of-day summary of Google Hot Searches for December 3 and December 6 —the day the meme was supposed to end— none of the top 20 search queries were about, nor even remotely related to, child abuse.

But as cartoon profile pictures spread, and presumably Facebook users' curiosity about what the phenomenon was all about, so did traffic to anti-child violence web sites.

Real-world action

According to, the Facebook cartoon meme has led to "an unexpected boost" in traffic and donations to children's charities.

US-based non-profit organization reported a sharp increase in traffic to its website.

"The response has been phenomenal. Our Website usually gets about 2,500 unique visitors a day, but we got 10,000 on Saturday and another 10,000 on Sunday. It usually takes us at least two weeks to reach those numbers. It’s been a wonderful surprise," said ChildHelp marketing director Walt Stutz.

The Child Abuse Prevention Association, also based in the US, reported an unusual amount of small donations over the weekend through their website.

"At first I wasn't sure if the donations were even real — I thought it could have been spam. We have a $1,200 increase in small donations and I couldn't figure out why," recounted the association's chief officer, Jeanetta Issa.

In the Philippines, the Facebook cartoon meme helped boost media mileage for a rally against child abuse staged on Sunday, December 5, by the Salinlahi Alliance for Children's Concerns.

It is not clear, however, if the rally was staged to take advantage of the Facebook meme's popularity, or was just a coincidence. Salinlahi could not be reached for comment on the matter.

Meanwhile, some Filipino netizens found it difficult to find online venues where they could actively contribute to the anti-child abuse campaign.

"I looked for organizations to donate to via PayPal. I like 'PayPal-ing' or 'creditcard-ing' donations because that means there's a website and I can do it ASAP (lest I) forget. I started by checking out Philippine sites but I couldn't find any (that allow online payments)," said Diane, a Filipino IT professional currently based in Singapore.

"(In the Philippines,) not many people think to contribute because not many have the means to do so. All of us have Facebook and what-not, but not all of us have credit cards and Paypal," she reasoned.

UNICEF: 'too soon to see'

For its part, UNICEF Philippines welcomed the Facebook cartoon meme as a means of raising awareness of child abuse in the country, albeit gradually.

"We cannot categorically say there has been a noticeable increase in traffic or inquiries as a result of the Facebook action. However, it is probably too soon to see, and we wouldn't really expect a direct result as the (meme) doesn't mention any particular organization or campaign, just the issue," UNICEF chief of communication for the Philippines Angela Travis told GMANews.TV via email.

"These things do make a difference, but it's very difficult to specify measurable details. Social media, just like any online marketing, has gradual-build effect, raising awareness on an issue that can build over time. It's not usually instant. UNICEF welcomes these initiatives, from dedicated, committed members of the public (who) regularly give both time, commitment and sometimes funds, to enable UNICEF to promote and protect the rights of children in the Philippines," Travis added.

Facts about child abuse in the Philippines

According to UNICEF statistics, more than one out of every ten Filipino children between the ages of five and fourteen is engaged in child labor. The same statistics also show that one out of every four Filipino respondents found domestic violence "justified".

Although UNICEF has no data on violent methods of child discipline in the Philippines, the agency notes that, of 29 countries and territories surveyed, 86 percent of children aged two to fourteen experienced violent discipline at home. - HS, GMANews.TV
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