For the past few weeks, social media has been flooded with blaring headlines about the Amazon fires and #savetheamazon. With news of the devastating fires blazing through the so-called “lungs of the world”, Instagram has erupted in activist posts calling for awareness and change. Yet, since the time when it caused an uproar in the media, essentially no progress has been made on saving the forest. So, with all these awareness campaigns, why hasn’t there been any change?
Nowadays especially, with the advantage of efficient communication via online platforms, many organizations focus on the concept of raising awareness. For those who are passionate about a cause, their usual instinct is to make sure as many people as possible are aware of that problem. After all, it seems like common sense to do what’s best for oneself after hearing about the negative consequences entailing the other option. Described as the Information Deficit Model, the assumption that a lack of knowledge is the main preventer of taking action, is what leads to those fervent campaigns promoting these numerous causes.
However, abundant research clearly points out that more information is unlikely to produce a change in behavior — which perhaps may be the reason why, despite the media coverage, the Amazon remains the same, if not worse. Breaking down the process of trying to create change is a big the problem with these campaigns. It reveals the ineffective ways in which people are attempting to spread awareness.
Although it may seem reasonable to assume that engaging people will be enough to motivate them to change, research shows that in most cases, it actually has had the opposite effect, either leading to no action, creating further harm, or facing unintended backlash. A prime example is the infamous “Dumb Ways to Die” song, which was a campaign by Metro promoting safety around trains. While the song went viral, the goal of the campaign was to raise awareness and reduce the number of people committing suicide by way of train. However, in the year following the song’s release, the Melbourne newspaper The Age reported approximately 150 suicides by train in Australia that year, not to mention the 1,000 attempts. Rather than preventing further death, the song actually normalized it by making it seem temporary, painless, and hence, more appealing.
Another example is when an article listing the environmental harms of consuming seafood was published, companies began to label their products in order to encourage customers to be conscious of their choices. However, the good-willed act backfired on those companies when others began noticing the economic incentive behind the labels — and many began deceiving their customers by changing the names of their products and faking eco-friendliness. Shortly after the article was published, Jennifer Jacquet, an environmental studies professor at New York University, and Daniel Pauly, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia, found that three-quarters of the fish labeled “red snapper” were actually different species of fish, and that sharks were sold as weak fish or even tuna. And as a result, more than 50% of environmental advertisements on labels were proven to be misleading. In this instance, the attempts to raise awareness lead unethical companies to further exploit customers. Such examples demonstrate how the misinterpretation and lack of consideration for different factors can lead to more harm than good done by a seemingly productive campaign.
Raising awareness can be effective and produce the desired result when the goal is to publicize a little-known problem, because it can contribute to the larger overall effort. However, in most cases, organizations are looking for ways to implement change rather than mere knowledge. In order to truly create that change, there needs to be more focused and strategic methods of driving social movement, rather than the pointless campaigns we are so used to seeing today. Attempting to raise awareness about an issue is a good and honorable act — but it needs to be done more efficiently.
Joyce Kim, Grade 10
La Canada High School