How to Turn Your Twitter Avatar into a Force for Good — For Real
Changing your Twitter pic is kind of like slapping a political bumper sticker on your car; it never started or finished a revolution. But Georgia Tech School of Interactive Computing professor Eric Gilbert has come up with a clever way to add impact to what’s been labeled social media “slacktivism.”
Following the hundreds of thousands of Twitter users who added a green overlay to their profile pictures to indicate their support for Iranian protesters in 2009 — and later campaigns like “I’m With Coco” and STOP SOPA — Gilbert designed a tool called “when things fall apart” to help Twitter users support the Red Cross.
After users donate $10 to the Red Cross and authenticate with Twitter, the when things fall apart app breaks up their Twitter profile pics into tiny virtual pieces. Updating every 12 hours over the course of three days, the picture eventually reassembles. It’s a neat effect, and one that’s built to subtly catch people’s attention.
The message is supposed to be that the Red Cross helps put things back together after they fall apart. But the app isn’t tied to a current major disaster that makes people think of the Red Cross and how things are falling apart, so that may put a damper on its virality.
Plus, you do have to tweet every so often in order for your followers to notice the changes. (Not to get too off-topic, but I remember a couple years ago there was a campaign where celebrities like Lady Gaga took a vow to stop tweeting while they were raising money for a cause. It didn’t really work; part of the charm of Twitter is the stream keeps flowing day in and day out, so you don’t notice when someone’s gone.)
In a phone interview, Gilbert said he agreed in part with Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote a widely read New Yorker article about the role of social media activism having been overstated. “It’s never going to be the same thing as a sit-in, but at least we can make it count for something,” Gilbert said.
When things fall apart makes a couple of key improvements on previous Twitter pic campaigns: First, you have to donate in order to get the animation. And second, there’s an end date; after three days, your picture returns to normal. That is, unless you want to donate again.
Here’s a video that shows how it works: