Shut up and shut down

Shut up and shut down

This doesn’t apply to those of you getting bored with Facebook and abandoning your accounts, but to the 500 million users across the world who log on to Facebook or Twitter before they brush their teeth each morning: There’s someone who needs your help.

SapientNitro, an advertising agency, and autism charities worldwide have challenged social networkers to shut down their Facebook and Twitter accounts for one day on 1 November. The idea is for people to empathize—just for one day—with what autistic people face all through life. “Autism, being a neuro-development disorder, impairs the social communication of people affected by it. And with the incredible reach that social media has, with even 5 minutes of Facebook going down making news, we decided to involve the social media," says Marianne Harvey, senior copywriter, SapientNitro.

The idea originated in Australia when the AEIOU Foundation, an autism charity, and SapientNitro decided to start a campaign. In the past year, this has become a global movement involving over 40 countries and several thousands of users (the exact figures of participants will only be tabulated after the event). The list of countries where people have committed to participating include Australia, the UK, US, Canada, most of Europe, Colombia, nations in South-East Asia, Japan, Oman, UAE, South Africa and India. The Bangalore-based Asha Integrated School set up by the AEIOU Foundation, which helps autistic children reach their potential, is the Indian partner in the movement.

“With so many charities and causes to choose from, people can’t be expected to donate money to your cause without knowing about it. The idea, therefore, was to first create empathy, and then ask for donations," says Harvey. People are being asked to shut down their accounts for just one day so that they understand the crippling effect of the inability to communicate. Harvey cites Rachael Harris, who works closely with them, as saying the idea of a communication shutdown “mirrors autistic silence. But it also draws attention to the isolation and intense loneliness experienced by those who are impeded from connecting socially with others".

Members of the autism community are getting behind the fund-raiser, including Temple Grandin, who was recently portrayed by Claire Danes in the Emmy award-winning film Temple Grandin. “I can remember the frustration of not being able to talk. I knew what I wanted to say, but I could not get the words out, so I would just scream. People will have some idea of what this feels like when they take part in the Communication Shutdown," says Grandin.

The organizers have decided to make this an annual event, and already the list of supporting groups and partners is already getting bigger. Organizations working with autism have pledged their support from next year onwards.

Neha Pathak, PR lead, Sapient, in India, explains how the event has been publicized even outside the organization’s networks. “We post updates and information about it on our accounts but it’s been received tremendously; all those posts are reposted on Facebook, and retweeted continuously on Twitter," she says.

“We didn’t have a big budget to advertise the event so we decided to use these social networks itself," says Harvey. “But we like the irony of using social networks to shut down social networks."