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An apple a day, keeps the doctor… or Vladimir Putin away.

In The Economist article, “Eat Apples to Annoy Putin” A.C. writes about Russia’s ban on apples the import of Polish fruit and vegetables which will leave Poland with a huge surplus of apples.  Nearly 56% (677,000 tons) of Poland’s apple exports went to Russia last year until August 1st, when Russia imposed the ban and could cost Polish farms approximately 659 million dollars, according to Poland’s ministry of agriculture.  Many Poles have responded by encouraging people through a social media campaign on Facebook called “Jedz Jablka Na Zlosc Putinowi” or “Eat Apples to Annoy Putin.”  On its Facebook page, it garnered over 55,000 likes with some people posting pictures of eating apples or creating memes and cartoons that mock Putin’s decision.  Although governments are trying to help by “trying to convince Washington to open the American market to Polish apples… America’s strict standards for food imports… mean it could be a long wait” (A.C).  Despite the popular #jedzjablka (Eat Apples) campaign on social media, supermarkets claim they are selling the same amount as before and to “counteract the ban, Poles would have to start eating twice as many apples, doubling their annual consumption to 30kg each” (A.C).

Image Courtesy of Human Rights Campaign

Image Courtesy of Human Rights Campaign

When reading this article, I couldn’t help but think of a similar viral social media campaign that occurred almost a year ago.  The Human Rights Campaign created a successful social media initiative supporting gay marriage by encouraging people to change their profile picture to the icon on the left.  As this campaign began, my news feed flooded with notifications of friends changing their profile pictures to the pink and red equal sign icon.  People who I never expected to show support hopped on the bandwagon and I had my doubts of the campaign’s true effectiveness – is it just another fad in the fleeting social media realm?  What is changing one’s profile picture actually going to do?  Is it not just to feel better about oneself that he or she is involved in a campaign without actually doing anything?  In a Scientific American blog entry, “Will Changing Your Facebook Profile Picture Do Anything for Marriage Equality?” Melanie Tannenbaum has a hopeful outlook on viral campaigns having a positive social, though not political, impact.  She argues that peer pressure, no matter how old, has a powerful grip on the way we act and that “we don’t really care so much about what we should do.  We care about what other people do.  And then we really, really care about not being different” (Tannebaum).  People hate to be out of what is considered the “norm” and we respond much more strongly to “norms” set by people we know – our friends, including those on Facebook.

So, is engaging in social media campaigns effective? Politically, probably not.  Changing profile pictures, or liking a Facebook page won’t change the government’s mind.  Most of the time, it’s slacktivsm.  However, it does promote a new normalization of an idea – that it is acceptable to advocate for same-sex marriage.  The more people show support, the more socially acceptable it is to support unpopular and unheard voices of problems within society and it all starts with a few clicks.

Featured Image Courtesy of Flickr User Tom Gill

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