Josiah Wedgewood's famous emblem (seen below) was copied and re-copied on thousands of items, including jewellery, prints and snuff boxes. It gave the average citizen a voice — including men who did not have the right to vote yet and to women. Thousands of people bore this insignia to declare their stand against slavery.
Today we have endless forms of marketing to literally scream out to the world what we believe. Social media, as Kristof mentions below, has given opportunity for us to drawn attention to the slave trade where we otherwise would not be able to.
Is it a help? Or another marketing gimmick? Or both? Lots of people wear crosses, but care nothing for the Christ who died upon it. Thousands bear the peace symbol on patches and decals because 'it's cool', and not because of the belief of those who saw horror first hand and lived for nothing more than to bring true harmony to the world. I would even say there's a growing desparation for many people to believe in something, ANYTHING, that they will sport the flavour-of-the-month-cause just to feel like they're making a difference. But they don't understand the life behind it all.
Do we really know what we're standing for when we Facebook our thoughts? Tweet our Twitters? Wear our crosses? Display our snuff boxes?
Social Media and ActivismBy Nicholas Kristof
The most successful logo in human history is not the Nike swoosh or any other corporate design. Instead, it’s probably one designed by anti-slavery activists in Britain way back in 1787, and it became a mainstay of the abolitionist movement — a way to spread the word and build solidarity.
This logo was provided by Josiah Wedgewood for use by early British abolitionists (it later crossed the Atlantic and was used by Americans as well in the 19th century). It shows a slave in chains and asks: “Am I not a man and a brother?” It became a huge success: it was reprinted endless in printed documents, and also used as a fashion statement in jewelry and even snuff boxes, a way of asserting one’s abolitionist credentials. It acted as a hugely successful bumper sticker, long before there were bumpers.
I think of that abolitionist logo as an ancestor to modern uses of social media to promote causes. One of the interesting developments in the humanitarian world has been the embrace of Facebook, Twitter and blogging to promote issues that might not otherwise get much attention.
Inspired by the 1787 Wedgewood logo, there are some updated versions intended to focus attention on gender oppression. Since few people have snuff boxes now, the new logos are meant to be incorporated as email signatures. There are a number to choose from, including one that echoes the abolitionist logo by asking: Am I not a woman and a sister? They are all downloadable here; you may want to consult the nearby instructions to embed the image in a signature and make it clickable. I’d be curious about your views about whether this is a useful way to spread the word, or simply mindless promotion that distracts from building schools and clinics. I believe the former, partly because I think the humanitarian world is rather poor at messaging and needs to get the word out more effectively, but I’m open to other views.
The advantage of modern social media is, of course, that these messages can go viral much more easily in the 21st century than in the 18th. More broadly, I’d be curious about your impressions or experiences with using the Internet and social media to spread messages and galvanize support for various causes.