Has anyone else seen #giveashit on Twitter in the past few days? MTV has launched the "Give a Shit" campaign to increase civic engagement and encourage people to voice their concerns for any issue about which they are passionate. Many are voicing concerns about important public health issues like access to clean water. Great way to engage young people, right? Using a play on words. Using foul language. But the question remains- what are the goals of the campaign? Will the campaign actually improve public health?
The primary strategy for messaging about the campaign is a YouTube video featuring Nikki Reed (of Twilight fame). The tone of the two-minute video is hard to classify. In some ways it appears to be a parody of a real PSA (e.g., it simulates Nikki on the toilet so she can use that time to "give a shit"). But then it seems to have genuine moments when it motivates people to join a movement- any movement. Nikki tells viewers that all they have to do is "give a shit". It doesn't matter if they don't actually DO anything...if they CARE, then the world's problems will cease to exist.
As you can imagine, I take issue with this premise. So much of what we know in public health is based on evaluation data that has shown us that "knowledge" does not equal behavior change. "Increasing awareness" about pregnancy does not eliminate unprotected sex. Having the "intention" to stop smoking does not help when someone is addicted to nicotine. Therefore, it is unclear to me how just caring about an issue like access to clean water will result in positive change.
Next, the video goes on to say that once you care about the issue, you should alert your social networks. It shows images of posts to Twitter like, "I just gave a shit about global warming". So I went into Twitter to see if it is actually happening, and it is. The #giveashit hash tag is alive and well and users are reporting that they care about children with special needs, animal cruelty, etc. But again, I'm still at a loss as to how this "caring" and "twitter posting" actually leads to an increase in positive civic engagement. I tried to look for additional information on their website: www.give-a-shit.org but the site is not currently functioning. That is a problem as well. If the goals of the campaign are already unclear, it does not help that users cannot access information beyond the YouTube video. Several advocacy websites offer a brief overview of the campaign that may be helpful in the absence of a functioning website.
So while the play on words is "cute" and I appreciate a campaign that aims to combat the apathy that can be rampant regarding serious public health issues...I don't understand how this campaign will actually change behavior. And no- I don't agree that just caring about an issue will make all problems go away. If it did, we in public health would be out of a job.