Many women (and, apparently, some men) flooded Facebook with unusual status updates over the past two days in a meme
calling on “girls” to post the colors of the bras they were wearing,
ostensibly to raise awareness of breast cancer.
Social media responded to the stunt with a certain amount of
tee-heeing and innuendo; with calls for a comparable “game for the
guys” about underwear choices; with cries of “TMI” (Too Much
Information); balanced with expressions of support and noticeable
efforts to extend the meme to Twitter.
But hours after tech news site
Mashable posted its widely-retweeted explanation of the mysterious Facebook updates (Sharing Your Bra Color Is the New 25 Things on Facebook), confusion about the color status updates is still widespread.
Conflicting Messages & Mysterious Source
It turns out, there’s a good reason for a certain amount of confusion around this
particular meme. Sure, we have to expect a loss of focus whenever a message goes viral, but "there's no real 'control' to this viral campaign," as Nathania Johnson points out (What Color is Your Bra? TMI for a Cause on Facebook Goes Awry): "Unfortunately, though
this began with good intentions, it's reminiscent of what ultimately
drove people away from MySpace."
And, in fact, at least two very different versions of
the “call to action” email made the rounds.
“We are playing a game and you have to write the colour of your
bra in your status… just the colour and send this to all your
girlfriends NO MEN so that we can see how many women change their
status and we will have the guys wondering what all the women are doing
with just a colour posted…Please play this is from a friend in the
states..lets see how far we can reach…..copy and past this in your
“Some fun is going on… just write the colour of your bra in your
status. Just the colour, nothing else. And send this on to ONLY girls,
no men… It will be neat to see if this will spread the wings of cancer
awareness. It will be fun to see how long it takes before the men will
wonder why all the girls have a colour in their status. Copy and paste
Notice that the first message sells the bra color
status updates as nothing more than a girls-only Facebook game “to have
all the guys wondering… see how far we can reach”; the second makes the
connection to cancer awareness in general. A third variation, widely
posted online, does specify breast cancer
awareness as the purpose of the meme.
- So, did the meme start as a sophomoric Facebook game that,
somewhere along the way, was transformed into a campaign for breast
- Or did the cause of breast cancer awareness get dropped, in some versions of the email message, in the viral rush?
- Or was the whole thing an undercover campaign started by the organizations themselves, as some skeptics are starting to suggest?
There’s no way to know which version of the email message came
first, how widely spread each version was, or how many other variations
made the rounds in the past two days. What we do know for sure is that a percentage of the women who posted their bra colors to Facebook
had no idea of the purpose for sharing that personal
information with their online acquaintances.
The origins of the meme will most likely remain a mystery. And
that’s fine, the origins probably don’t matter very much in the long
But users of the social web — and nonprofits who may be
contemplating some sort of similar viral social-network-based campaign
of their own — are left with a whole lot of questions about the impact,
the results, the implications of this cheeky little Facebook meme. Here are a few of mine:
- Does it matter that some women (and some men, to their subsequent
embarrassment) posted colors in their Facebook status updates, not
knowing what it was about?
- Does it matter that some women posted the color of their underwear without knowing why they were doing it?
- Does it matter that this is all centered on Facebook, the social network that censored a breast cancer patient’s attempt to raise awareness by posting her post-mastectomy photos?
- Am I the only one who finds a nudge-nudge-wink-wink tone slightly distasteful, in the context of a life-and-death disease?
Ah, now there’s the big question.
ABC News reports that “organizations that support the cause say they are thrilled with the free publicity.”
“We think it’s terrific,” said Andrea Rader, a spokesman for
Susan G. Komen For the Cure, an organization that raises funds for
breast cancer research. “It’s a terrific example of how little things
get started on the Internet and go a long way to raise cancer
The Washington Post’s Story Lab
reports that the Facebook fan base for Susan G. Komen For the Cure
“exploded” from 135 to 700 in a two-hour period this morning, but also
records some less enthusiastic reactions, like this one:
“I think the thing about posting your bra color was so incredibly
dumb,” said Tanya Alteras. “I have a friend who is in her late 20s,
just had a double mastectomy, chemo, and is now going through
radiation, and she was furious about this. How this raises awareness
about breast cancer is beyond me. It’s all about making a silly inside
joke, and trying to make it meaningful. When you have people posting
‘Saran wrap’ it just becomes offensive.”
Meanwhile, an “Official” I updated my Status with my Bra colour Facebook Page was set up Thursday morning, 9:30 UK time, by a woman named Kimberley Griffiths. She writes “I am not the person who created it but made it Global by this Facebook Page, So Keep Inviting and supporting.”
While the Page sheds no light on the origins of the meme, it has
acquired 29,306 fans as of late this afternoon. The Page provides a
link to the online donation page for a UK breast cancer research
charity and hosts a growing collection of photographs, presumably
contributed by Facebook fans whose dedication to the cause is not
hampered by undue modesty.
Attention, Awareness, Facebook fans… Where do we go from here?
We can’t know how many women who posted their bra colors on Facebook
will now be reminded to do regular self-examinations as a result. We
can’t know how many lives will be saved as a result of work made
possible by the donations generated as a direct result of the
publicity… once the adolescent giggling stops and word begins to filter
down through the uncertain channels of social media that this nudge-nudge was more than just another Facebook poke.
“These online antics may be raising more attention for women’s
anatomy than for breast cancer research,” points out the ABC News
story, going on to quote Karen Young, spokesperson for breastcancer.org.
“I’d like to learn more about this,” Young said. “The challenge is
you are seeing certain cryptic messages and they are interesting, but I
haven’t seen it lead anywhere. I am really intrigued and think there is
a possibility to bring it to the next level.”
And there has to be a next level, doesn’t there? If awareness
doesn’t translate into action, it’s empty talk — gone as quickly as a
status update in the feed on a Facebook home page.
Do take a few minutes to read In the name of awareness
by Susan Niebur, by the way, if you have not already done so — you’ll
find it posted in a few different places online. It’s a pretty
powerful reponse to the Facebook bra color meme by a woman who has a
heck of a lot more right than most of us to have an opinion about it.
Meanwhile, over on Twitter, as the weekend begins, talk of the Facebook bra color meme
is still gaining momentum. A teenaged boy complains that he didn’t
want to learn the color of his teacher’s underwear; a young woman wants
to know why she’s getting so many Facebook messages asking about her
bra color; many of both genders are saying “enough, already!”; and one
fellow just observed that “the backlash has started”…
On the other
hand, there are girls and women naming a color in memory of a loved one lost to
breast cancer, or reporting that they’ve made donations to breast
cancer research in lieu of disclosing their underwear preferences.
Breast cancer is a hot topic tonight across the blogs and news outlets — and we’re nowhere near October, the designated Breast Cancer Awareness Month. That has to count for something, right?
I just don’t know, honestly; it’s a tough call. Let me throw the big question out to you —
Did it work?