One day this week, when spending too much time on Facebook, I suddenly noticed friends and colleagues posting colors as their "status". Since I tend to not be terribly conscious of gender in most social or work settings, I failed to notice that those posting colors were all women. I went with "black", a color that I've learned to wear since coming to New York, and then changed it to "black on the inside, white on the outside", which tends to define my music tastes and such.
It wasn't until much later that things like "sans" or "lacy red" started to show up, at which point I began to get a bit suspicious. By that time, my male friends had figured it out: for some unknown reason, women on Facebook had determined that they simply had to post the color of the bra they were wearing as their status that day. And apparently, someone had tipped them off that this gesture was related to breast cancer awareness. The source of the viral movement remains unknown.
This appears, on the surface, to be an incident of Social Media Gone Wild. No individual or organization has emerged as being behind the mass movement. Nor is it clear exactly how letting the world know what color bra you're wearing serves to raise awareness of breast cancer -- although it is possible that it raised awareness of breasts. Which in our society, did not seem to be a body part of which the general public was unaware.
After about 8 hours of this foolishness, one colleague posted (ingeniously) "I usually make people buy me dinner before they get that information". Finally, the spell was broken and it was time to make sense, sort of, of this situation. Here's my take on it:
- Since there was no organization or even a clear sense of a goal or outcome, it is fair to assume that nobody is more aware of breast cancer now than they were before this "movement".
- Not a penny was raised for any of the organizations that are actively fighting a serious public health challenge -- Not Susan G. Komen for the Cure, not Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Crusade, not National Breast Cancer Coalition. None.
- At the end of the two day bra color display, those of us who figured out what was happening now possessed information about our colleagues, neighbors and friends that we didn't need. In some cases, the information was either distracting or even rather disturbing.
- The force of peer pressure was shown to be much stronger, even among adults, than feared. Most of the women I know would be quite insulted were you to ask them the color of their undergarments. Yet, dozens that I knew, and probably hundreds overall, gladly revealed that information as part of a Facebook-based "movement".
- The information that women posted is now part of the public domain. In an earlier posting I pointed out that one day the children of college students who decided to get drunk and show up on Girls Gone Wild will discover that information (and those videos). Admittedly, knowing the color of your mother's bra is a bit less troubling, but it remains information that your kids may not have wanted to know (and trust me, they know now).
Having said all that, there is good news: The right causes, led by the right people or organizations, with the right plans, will be able to capitalize on this type of viral, grassroots organizing on Facebook. For the right cause, I'll gladly give you my status.