There's a peculiar phenomenon much in vogue these days – solidarity via Facebook. Every day, somewhere on my timeline I see something like this.
"I'm going to say goodbye to some of you...... now I'm watching the ones who will have the time to read this post until the end. This is a little test, just to see who reads and who shares without reading! If you have read everything, select 'like' so I can put a thank you on your profile! Cancer is very invasive and destructive to your body. After you have finished your treatment, then, your body wants to go to war with yourself trying to reconstruct all the damage caused by radiation. It's a very long process.
Please, in honour of someone who died, or is fighting cancer, or even had cancer, copy and paste.
They all say: 'if you need anything, do not hesitate, I'm gonna be there for you'... so I'm going to make a bet that less than 1/2 of my friends will put this on their walls. You just have to copy (not share)!!!
I want to know who I can count on.... Write 'done' in the comment when you do.
To all those who are fighting... I am with you always!"
The cause varies -- cancer, depression, mental health, forgotten army veterans -- but the pressure is the same. At one time it was just a request for solidarity and support. Now it's morphed into what feels like emotional blackmail rather than just tugging at the heart.
"I'm going to make a bet that less than half my friends will put this on my wall."
"This is a test to see who reads and who shares without reading."
It might be for a good cause and I do not in any way doubt the sincerity of those who post it, but it's passive aggressive nonetheless.
Whether that's true or not, what it effectively does is make each post a fresh new post that's not dependent on the original poster's privacy settings. There's no "mother post" it can all be traced to which is wonderful for someone trying to spread a hoax and remain undetected.
It has also fuelled a whole new field of conspiracy theories and paranoia. Some think that all this copy and paste renders a user more vulnerable to hacking, that it's a sneaky way for web crawlers to add you to lists that can then be sold off. Whether that's true or not, what it effectively does is make each post a fresh new post that's not dependent on the original poster's privacy settings. There's no "mother post" it can all be traced to which is wonderful for someone trying to spread a hoax and remain undetected. If the original is deleted, all its shared spawn will not vanish as well. But the real problem is with the motivation, not the modus operandi.
Facebook has always been prone to faux activism. We have all seen pictures of a cancer-stricken child and been told that our likes and shares will help him get some life-saving surgery. Or that Mark Zuckerberg is giving away $45 billion of Facebook stock, 10% of it to ordinary people as long as you copy and paste that message. By the way, copy-pasting that viral Facebook copyright notice "under articles L.111, 112 and 113 of the code of intellectual property" is not going to do anything extra to protect your data either.
The problem is not solidarity. It is that we are being pressured into thinking of solidarity as a copy and paste job. It is that we are being made to think of a status update as a litmus test of friendship, a word that has been stretched thin by Facebook anyway. Facebook has already wrought havoc with the idea of activism, fooling many of us into thinking that "liking" and sharing is the same as marching and organizing. Now it's doing the same to the word "solidarity", robbing it of all genuine meaning and worth.
It is that we are being made to think of a status update as a litmus test of friendship, a word that has been stretched thin by Facebook anyway.
An obviously copied-and-pasted message really does nothing to bolster the strength of a cancer survivor. When someone I know was going through the ravages of chemo, a friend's suggestion of books with recipes to stimulate the taste buds was helpful. The friend who brought a special kind of dried kombu seaweed from the US to add to chicken soup was a godsend. Even the friend who sent a simple "You'll beat this" private message mattered. Copy and paste statuses about cancer solidarity popping up like dandelions all over Facebook were meaningless.
"But it does not hurt," protest those who do it and encourage others to do it. "And it does not take much time." Exactly. It does not take much time. Just like other kinds of faux activism, this seduces us into thinking that it's worthwhile because it asks so little of us – not time, not money, not sweat, not even too much typing. It's even easier than writing "Thinking of you. Hugs" on someone's wall.
Why have we been fooled into thinking that this is a way we can show the world that we are good persons, that we care? Who have we become that we think our friendships are so flimsy that unless they can copy and paste for us, friends will not be there for a real emergency in our lives? If someone on our friend list does not copy and paste, will we not pick up the phone to call them if some day we need their help? Or will we not answer their call if they need us and we can help? What does it say about us that we are using social media not just to share stuff about our lives but to make judgements about people based on what they do NOT share?
Ultimately it boils down to something quite simple. If I need to copy and paste something to prove that I am paying attention, maybe our friendship was not worth that much to begin with. I would rather see a picture of your new puppy. And if you are feeling down, I will send you a hug emoji. In the end that's personal. A copy-and-paste message, however well-intentioned, is not. Also just because someone did it does not mean they did not do it grudgingly. It's a waste of time and honestly a waste of empathy.
And by the way, nobody likes cancer whether they copy and paste that damn message or not.