THE BLOG

Why the No Make-Up Selfie campaign spread across social media like cyber wildfire

04/04/2014 10:06 BST | Updated 03/06/2014 10:59 BST

Considering how many of us look in the mirror first thing in the morning, the thought of sharing our image on Facebook among 1.11billion users is probably a daunting prospect. So it's arguably a masterstroke that in a world obsessed with body perfection a charitable cause rallied tens of thousands of women into revealing their bare faces on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. As the total raised in the No Make-up Selfie campaign - which became linked to Cancer Research - tops £8million, the burning question among charities and PR machines everywhere will be "Why was it such a resounding success?". The mystery of its success is compounded by its unclear origins - it didn't even have the propeller of a high-profile launch to spread it like cyber wildfire.

The selfie is all about perfection, recent surveys suggest one in six Britons take at least seven selfies before they finally post one online, so the masterstroke of this particular campaign is its ability to gently poke fun at the more vulnerable side of the self. Social media is often fuelled by the quest for the perfect image and the tendency of users to consume information in a moment and react to it. Effectively, these media allow everyone to judge a book by its cover in seconds.

But in this campaign, the women taking part feel they are standing united against the barbed and sharp comments of the cyber bullies. It could be considered brave but it is equally altruistic considering the pictures are contrived. How many really did this in the name of charity as opposed to seizing it as an opportunity to reveal their 'natural beauty' to the world?

Selfies, now familiar in the lexicon of popular culture, lead us to foolishly believe women - who are at the centre of campaigns such as this one - find them empowering and inspiring. Like many other female users of social media, I am critically self-aware; have a heightened sense of reflexivity and instinctively appreciate how 'likeable' and pleasing flattering content is. The selfies I have seen carry lengthy gushing comments and likes from their peers. This concentrated and public approval is incredibly satisfying and will undoubtedly play its part in motivating others.

What has caught my own attention during the No-Make-Up campaign is the insistence that users can successfully be seen to abandon the tenor of the service platforms that have a heritage of promoting perfection. This may teach an important lesson about how individuals crave meaningful content and connections in every aspect of their lives. This is particularly relevant to women, who are the main users of social media that are driven by visual content.

Facebook and Twitter are certainly not the empowering elements of this, or any other campaign. They are commercial spaces - sophisticated service providers, and not the friendly social platforms or content creators as they first appear. Many who were involved in the No-Make-Up campaign were unlikely to be aware that their images and related content remain the 'property' of these services providers, and even if deleted by the user, the content will remain embedded to digital data.

In terms of what comes next, the No-Make Up Selfie campaign has provided new insight into what motivates generosity in this social media obsessed world. The amount raised is a marvellous result for Cancer Research and those who will be helped by the donation, but in this case an element of gratification is also something to consider. There will also be a need to pay close attention to the longer-term implications of social media and the issues of content ownership, privacy, regulation and legal control, even if the campaign is in the name of charity.