Read into it what you will, but likes aren’t helping

Considering the new social forums available at the click of a button, the world is able to see powerful images like the one above. Depending on your perspective this image may mean different things and have varied implications. To be able to decipher images, one must employ the use of Semiotics, which refers to the study of signs and symbols in producing meaningful communication.

 Firstly, one must observe the signifier, which is the basic physical image on the page. In this case, one can see a mother holding her son in a poverty stricken area after the crisis in Singapore. Furthermore, a number of hands giving the thumbs up to the pair with the caption “Liking isn’t helping”. In short, this is the literal meaning, the denotation of the image. Moreover, it is an advertisement for volunteering for the crisis, as evidence in the caption “As a volunteer”. However, to honestly gain meaning from this image one must look at the signified and the all of the connotations linked to the image. 

The signified refers to meaning or idea expressed by the image. In this case, there is certainly a negative connotation in regards to the lack of action and how middle America act like they care, but do nothing to help. This idea is echoed by Cosmopolitan contributor Frank Kobola who stated in regards of Crisis Relief “a nonprofit that helps the disadvantaged in times of crisis, is asking everyone to do more than just like a status on Facebook”. . However, if a person wasn’t familiar with facebook they might interpret this image as a message of support, not of condemnation.

 In this situation, how could a facebook like help in aiding the cause?. It is the age of like and leave the page. People just liking to follow the crowd without a second thought. This perspective is shared by MarketWatch journalist John C. Dvorak who stated “to me it is the height of idiocy about the phenomenon. Yes, let’s just like this or that randomly without meaning or intent, just because we can”. Beyond that, it becomes a question of action from those who like the post. Being a volunteer may seem time-consuming, but when compared to the number of time physically spend on facebook it is slight. Teppi Jacobsen produced statistics indicating 

“Facebook users go to the site an average of 40 times per month. They spend an average of 23 minutes per visit.”

The average Facebook user sets aside 15 hours a month to like a crisis story while volunteer percentages in America decline.


As you can observe in the last 10 years Amercian volunteers have reduced by almost 4%. This decline can be attributed the access of information facebook users hold. Considering people can now read or like most stories easily, they believe they have done their part by simply endorsing the issue. People no longer what to be tied down by association with organizations. Wendy Spencer chief executive of the Corporation for National and Community Service shares this opinion. She stated, “Not everyone wants to be formally connected, we welcome spontaneous volunteerism”.

In review, there are two interpretations that can be made by examining this image. Firstly, the initial interpretation is a message of support for the tragedy by giving the thumbs up to the situation. This interpretation is made by someone removed from the social media dynamic, which in the current climate is almost impossible. The second interpretation carries a judgmental connotation in the form of social commentary in the phase “Liking isn’t helping”



1 Comment

  1. Very powerful imagery indeed and I completely agree that depending on your perspective, the meaning you get out of a media text may be different to others. In my blog I go to the extreme in saying that the audiences interpretation becomes the meaning, and that the encoders intended meaning may not always be what is discerned. I took a look at “Rage the flower-thrower” a piece created by graffiti artist Banksy, and you can really see that any media text can have multiple meanings.


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