Twitter Birthday Plea

To create real social impact, stellar creative alone isn’t always enough.

This article was co-written with Eric Facas. 

This past March, without much fanfare, Twitter celebrated its 15th birthday (or more accurately, the anniversary of co-founder Jack Dorsey’s first official Tweet). Maybe the company kept a low profile this year because they figured their platform was in the spotlight enough during the last US Presidential administration. Or maybe they thought that talking too loudly about being “15 years old” might make them seem uncool to GenZ, especially with the meteoric rise of newer, trendier apps like TikTok and Clubhouse. 

There’s one group of individuals, however, who cared very much about this social media milestone: child sex abuse survivors who have been exploited, and violated, by illicit photos that were shared on Twitter over the last 15 years, with no to way to directly report the content or ask for it to be removed—essentially, allowing their abuse to continue indefinitely, and wreak havoc on their lives.

In a 2020 study, The Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P) actually ranked Twitter as the worst platform for sexual abuse-related material reporting functions. Is anyone really surprised? Probably not. Are we appalled? 1000%. But the bigger question is—are we appalled ENOUGH to actually do something about it? 

C3P is. 

To “celebrate” Twitter’s 15th anniversary, in partnership with agencies No Fixed Address and Mischief, C3P created a harrowing 2-minute PSA featuring actors telling stories of real sexual abuse survivors whose trauma was deepen, and accelerated, by content shared on the platform. I’ll warn you, some of the stories are hard to hear. But they need to be acknowledged. 

The message is gut-wrenching. The production is simple and striking. The takeaway hurts. After watching the video for the first time, I literally clasped my hand over my open mouth and sat there in silence for a few moments, trying to process what I had just seen. I thought about my own kids, especially my daughter, who at 10-years-old is just on the brink of entering the social media realm. And that thought scared the shit out of me. 

As I watched the video a few more times, I kept coming back to the rally-cry at the end: Twitter. It’s time to grow up and start protecting victims. 

It’s a powerful statement, and one that I believe has the ability to connect with viewers from all communities, backgrounds, and experiences. However, I also believe its potential for impact beyond conversation-starting is hampered by the strategy behind its CTA (call-to-action). 

The video invites people to “Demand change with #TwitterBirthdayPlea” and asks them to visit birthdayplea.com to learn more. When you get to the website, the action they ask you to take is to “Tweet for Change”—essentially, to post a pre-written message on Twitter, using their hashtag, asking Twitter to do better. Galvanizing social momentum is a great start. But I couldn’t help but wonder…what else could have, or should have, come next?

When I shared this initiative with Eric Facas, one of our co-founders at Media Cause, his initial reaction to the video was the same as mine: “F*CK. That was brutal.” But after we talked about our initial emotional responses, the conversation circled back to approaching the campaign from a marketing, issue advocacy, and social impact perspective:

In Eric’s words, “This campaign does an amazing job evoking emotion and creating awareness for such an important issue. I’m so impressed with the video and applaud CP3’s effort to call out Twitter, but I’m afraid that it won’t have the intended effort or have much of an impact. This is another reminder that [oftentimes], traditional agencies fail to create actual real world impact because they don’t understand nonprofits (in this case advocacy and fundraising), and they don’t incorporate enough tactical marketing into these types of campaigns to change rules or behaviors.”

This gap between intent and impact in the traditional advertising world is something we’ve been wrestling with for years. 

“The website has a CTA to Tweet a prewritten message that tags @Twitter and uses a hashtag. That’s definitely something. More than a lot of other efforts, to be honest. But even if they were able to get 100,000 people to tweet their message, what’s missing is the action that they’re asking Twitter to take. Without a direct demand, they’re giving Twitter an easy-out. They can respond with a simple message of  ‘we’re doing everything we can to solve this horrible issue’ (which is what one article says already happened), and escape accountability for taking real, concrete steps to change. By working with Twitter experts who also understand online child sexual exploitation issues, they may have been able to develop a more clear CTA so that people aren’t stuck with asking Twitter to just ‘do better.’ 

With issue impact as the longer-term goal, what else could they have done differently?

“Specifically in the NPO space, we see a lot of power in coalition-building. By partnering with other like-minded orgs, they could use their collective influence to solve the problem together, either by applying direct pressure on Twitter, or, by taking a policy-change route and appealing to lawmakers to help. 

From a more tactical standpoint, social media is great for driving conversation and engagement, but not as much for inspiring immediate action. Instead of relying solely on Tweets to demand change, C3P could have used a targeted advocacy tool like Rally Starter to empower supporters to directly email the Twitter board, for example, which would be orders of magnitude more effective than sending yet another angry Tweet that will likely be ignored. This would have also provided an email collection opportunity for the organization, which they could combine with a drip email campaign in order to raise money for this important issue.”

There are so many incredible creative ideas in the nonprofit space that have the potential to genuinely spark change—but only if the tactical and strategic follow-through are there to support them. 

“The classic ‘build it and they will come’ hubris that we see all too often from traditional agencies just doesn’t work anymore. They could very well win creative awards for this work. But in thinking about effectiveness and driving change in the real world, that’s where there’s so much room for improvement. This is such an important issue, and the campaign had the potential to drive monumental awareness AND action. It’s not one or the other. They just needed to take it the rest of the way there.”

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this social issue campaign, or any others that have caught your attention—good or bad. You can find us (ironically) on Twitter, and instagram, at @mediacause.