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City attorney to Austria? Not so fast

Jennifer McGrath's Facebook announcement about a 21-month sabbatical turns out to be a public-awareness campaign about breast cancer.

January 04, 2012|By Mona Shadia

Some thought Huntington Beach City Attorney Jennifer McGrath was taking a 21-month vacation to Austria after she posted the news on her Facebook page.

The post was perplexing on many levels. McGrath kept up the conversation with people who commented, telling them that technology would keep her connected to Huntington Beach and that her leave would be counted as a sabbatical.

Sabbatical? She's an elected official.

It turns out McGrath wasn't serious about the vacation. Rather, she wanted to bring awareness to something that affects the lives of many: breast cancer.

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McGrath received a chain email on Facebook that asked users to match their month and date of birth to a country and a number of months, then announce that they would be spending that length of time in that country.

McGrath picked Austria because the country was matched to her month of birth, July, and 21 months because she was born July 21. The list of countries matched to each month of the year was provided in the chain email.

The idea was to make outrageous posts that caused people to react, after which the person who posted the fake vacation message would initiate a conversation about breast cancer.

"I thought it was so incredible that nobody would buy it, yet if you look on my page, there were so many comments by people I didn't even know were my friends on Facebook," McGrath said.

Even Councilman Joe Shaw was surprised when he saw the post. But then he wondered what kind of a joke she was pulling and wanted in.

McGrath received almost 50 comments on her post.

There have been similar Facebook-driven awareness campaigns in the past, some perhaps more provocative. Women were asked to share the colors of their bras and announce how far along they were in their pregnancy and what they were craving, even though they weren't pregnant at all.

McGrath later wrote that she canceled the vacation, but she didn't end up writing about breast cancer; by that point, it was obvious from some of the posts that word of the campaign had already spread.

"It's to make people pay attention and stop and think about those fighting and those people who have fought," she said. "I don't think I've gotten this many responses on anything I've ever posted."

mona.shadia@latimes.com

Twitter: @MonaShadia

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