Children's charities around the world received an unexpected boost in traffic and donations recently thanks to a popular Facebook trend that encourages members to switch out their profile pictures with images of their favorite childhood cartoon character as a way to raise awareness about child abuse.
But the mysterious origins of the campaign – which has been gaining ground over the past month and now has over 150,000 "likes" – have caused some people to question its authenticity, and a rumor, first reported by the Daily Mail, even alleges that it is ruse by pedophiles to lure new online victims.
But Facebook spokesperson Simon Axten debunked such claims on Monday (Dec. 6). "Thousands of people have taken up the campaign, none of whom can be identified as either young or old based on the profile picture chosen," Axten told FoxNews.com.
So far, no one has stepped forward to take credit for the campaign. Many have speculated that it was started by the British children's charity National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), but the organization has denied any involvement with the campaign: "Although the NSPCC did not originate the childhood cartoon Facebook campaign, we welcome the attention it has brought to the work we do :-)," NSPCC noted on its Twitter page.
While the origins of the Facebook campaign are unknown, many child abuse prevention organizations nevertheless welcomed the attention it has brought to the issue. Some have even experienced a big jump in traffic and monetary donations.
"The entire thing has been very strange to us," said Walt Stutz, the Director of Marketing for ChildHelp, a large, national nonprofit dedicated to the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect. "We believe the campaign started overseas and it snowballed through social media. We may not know where all of this came from, but charities like us are very grateful to whoever started it."
Waltz said ChildHelp started to notice the cartoon profile picture trend on Facebook last week. The organization put a message up on its Facebook page to draw attention to the initiative and, like many other children's charities, support the online campaign.
ChildHelp is also one of the various companies listed on some of the Facebook pages promoting the viral campaign.
"The response has been phenomenal," Stutz told TechNewsDaily. "Our Website usually gets about 2,500 unique visitors a day, but we got 10,000 on Saturday and another 10,000 on Sunday. It usually takes us at least two weeks to reach those numbers. It’s been a wonderful surprise."
For example, smaller, regional charities have also experienced the effects of the online movement. Since The Child Abuse Prevention Association based out of Missouri is the first company to come up on many Google searches for child abuse organizations, many have people have stumbled upon its site over the past few days.
The Child Abuse Prevention Association CEO Jeanetta Issa also noted an unusual amount of small donations being sent through its site, ChildAbusePrevention.org.
"At first I wasn't sure if the donations were even real – I thought it could have been spam," Issa said. "We have a $1,200 increase in small donations and I couldn't figure out why."
Every dollar helps, Issa said, noting that a whopping 25 to 50 percent of all children will experience some form of abuse during childhood – whether it’s verbal or sexual or another form. In fact, one out of every three girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18, and one out of every five to seven boys will be sexually abused by 18. Only a small percentage of child abuse is ever reported.
On a national level, over two million reports of abuse or neglect are made each year, and 1,500 children die from their injuries.
"These are big statistics, and any way to draw attention to what's happening out there is very important," Issa said.
As for the controversy, Stutz of ChildHelp said he hasn’t heard much about the pedophile-related rumors yet.
"I know some children have been approached by strangers via social networking sites in the past and it truly saddens us. Although I don’t believe the campaign began from something ill-natured, it’s turned into something really good to draw awareness to the prevention of such a critical issue," Stutz said.
"I think people are excited to change their pictures to cartoon images, and if it's to endorse a great cause that makes it even better."