What do those red Xs on Facebook mean?

Some social media users are sharing photos of red Xs to show support for the END IT Movement's 'Shine a Light on Slavery' Day. 

Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters/File
Women dressed in black and holding umbrellas demonstrate during a 'Walk for Freedom' to protest against human trafficking in front of the Reichstags building, the seat of the German lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, on October 18, 2014.

Facebook users may have noticed a sudden proliferation of red Xs in their news feeds on Thursday, thanks to a campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking.

Supporters of the END IT Movement's "Shine a Light on Slavery" Day took to social media to share photos of red Xs, some drawn on users' hands and others filtered over profile pictures with the hashtag #ENDITMOVEMENT. This year marks the fifth annual "Shine a Light on Slavery" Day. 

"This grassroots viral effort has been taking the world by storm, lighting a fire amongst people of all ages and creating a truly impassioned social movement," said Jenni Brown, END IT Movement campaign director, in a news release. "Social media has been an incredible platform for amplifying this message, and continues to play a vital role in expanding our network of Freedom Fighters by connecting people from all walks of life with this issue." 

The END IT Movement is asking citizens on Thursday to help "shine a light on the real-life issue of slavery" by drawing red Xs on their hands and uploading photos to social media. While similar online campaigns have faced criticism from some who argue that posting to social media is a lazy way to feel good about oneself without dedicating significant time or energy to a cause, experts say such efforts can be a powerful force for raising awareness of overlooked issues. As The Christian Science Monitor reported in November: 

The Standing Rock check-ins and similar online campaigns have been denounced by some as "slacktivism," a label given to internet activism that requires little effort beyond "liking" or sharing a post on social media. Such forms of protest, critics argue, provide an easy way for social networkers to feel as though they're making a difference without taking any "real-life" action. But while hashtags or virtual locations are unlikely to have an immediate impact on the decisions of higher-ups, experts say, they can raise the profile of a movement and sometimes lead to concrete change. 

"What is called commonly called slacktivism is not at all about 'slacking activists;' rather it is about non-activists taking symbolic action – often in spheres traditionally engaged only by activists or professionals," wrote Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in a 2012 blog post. "Since these so-called 'slacktivists' were never activists to begin with, they are not in dereliction of their activist duties. On the contrary, they are acting, symbolically and in a small way, in a sphere that has traditionally been closed off to 'the masses' in any meaningful fashion." 

Internet activism on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook has played a significant role in the development of the Black Lives Matter movement and others around the globe, as Max Lewontin reported for the Monitor last year. And the Ice Bucket Challenge, the oft-criticized viral sensation that led more than 17 million people to dump buckets of freezing water on their head in 2014, ended up raising $115 million for ALS research, as Ben Rosen reported for the Monitor in July. 

Last year's "Shine a Light on Slavery" campaign generated 144 million social media impressions, the END IT Movement said in a statement. 

An estimated 20.9 million people worldwide are trapped in some form of slavery today, according to the organization End Slavery Now. This year's campaign from the END IT Movement follows a Senate hearing last week to examine progress in the United States's global efforts to end slavery and human trafficking, including the recent authorization of legislation for the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act. 

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