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Seeing red on Facebook

Last week, HRC’s red equality logo was all over Facebook (in a variety of forms). Does it actually make a difference?


Janet Kornblum

Internet Culture

Were you seeing red last week?

I was—at least on Facebook. It seemed like every other person on my Facebook feed changed his and her profile picture to some version of the Human Rights campaign’s red equality logo.

I thought of changing my own avatar because after all, I obviously—to anyone who knows me—believe in marriage equality (I tried marrying my then female partner during a lull in the legal battle, but was overtaken by a court ruling. That and oh yeah, some of my best friends are known homosexuals. Shhh. Don’t tell.)

But I didn’t change it. In fairness part of it is sheer laziness. After all, it can take 30 whole seconds to change a profile picture. Maybe even a full three minutes, time I could spend doing something way more useful, like watching fish.

Honestly, the idea of it just felt kind of weird. Maybe it’s just a journalistic hangover thing. You know, I grew up professionally in a world where you absolutely did not wear your heart or your politics or anything else on your sleeve or window or page.

Maybe its that I’ve never been a joiner. This was, after all. orchestrated (and I say orchestrated in the nicest way) by the Human Rights Campaign. But then again, no one forced people to alter their digital representations of themselves.

And yet they did it in droves. According to The Atlantic, some 2.7 million people changed their profile pictures to promote marriage equality.

Why? Why do people ever change their profile pictures to promote a cause?

I informally polled my friends. Did they think it made a difference?

By and large, they responded that they didn’t think they changed anyone’s mind, but it was a moment of solidarity. Like wearing the same uniform or T-shirt or maybe putting a political sign in the window.

“It’s show of-support thing for me,” wrote fellow journalist Janet Rae-Dupree. “I have certain hot button issues that I simply wish to share with the world. Changing my profile picture is, for me, an efficient way of doing that.”

Other people expressed similar sentiments: they did it because it was right, not necessarily to specifically sway bigots (yes, I just said that).

On the other hand, maybe their action did change minds.

According to this fascinating blog post at Scientific American, people are “all too susceptible to the powers of peer pressure, or social proof. Our friends, family, and the people around us exert strong influences on our attitudes and behavior, whether intentional or not.”

In other words, peer pressure works. And it works a lot better than telling someone to change his mind.

So I’m too late for this one. But next time, I will jump on that bandwagon. If nothing else, I just might enjoy the ride.


Janet Kornblum is a journalist, media trainer, and is learning how to be a joiner. Contact her any way you please.

Photo via Human Rights Campaign/Facebook

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