Mar 30

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A Wave of Red Spreads Through Facebook

As the Supreme Court took up two cases involving the rights of GLBT couples, the impact was about to spread through social media.  Early in the morning, people around the country began changing their profile pictures to a red and yellow equal sign designed by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).  Early on, a tipping point was hit and more and more people changed their profiles.  As the day went on, individuals began designing their own version of the image.  As the case was over the Jewish holiday of Passover, some used Matzah as the equal sign.  Others Photoshopped Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street who commentators have often thought could be partners.  The images went beyond a political campaign for support as people took the time to personalize their images.

Facebook map of where people were changing their profile picture

Looking back, facebook predicts that over 2 million people changed their Facebook pictures in support of GLBT rights that day.  So let’s look at the effectiveness of this campaign.  Some media commentators said that it was a meaningless form of political activism.  The act of changing a facebook picture has no monetary cost and takes little time.  They said that if these people we so interested in supporting GLBT rights, they should financially support the organizations advocating for them.

Others praised the campaign as the largest public show of support for GLBT rights which allowed everyone to get involved.  This side of the discussion focused on the personal impact not the political impact of the images changes.  For individuals who identify as GLBT, it could have been a day to feel a lot of support from friends (depending on how many people they knew changing their image).  For allies, it was an easy way to show their support and begin discussions.  As the current political action is in the Supreme Court which is not influenced by advocacy this side of the discussion focused on the impact the campaign could have on individuals.

What can we learn from this case?  Target outcomes are essential.  The exact same event has been argued by some to be successful and other to be meaningless.  However, the perspective that matters is that of HRC as this was their brainchild.  If their goal was to influence policy, they likely were not successful.  However, if their goal was create an environment which sparked discussions on the topic then they likely were extremely successful.  By having goals before an initiative launches organizations can reflect on their campaigns, programs or daily work and see if they are meeting the objectives.  Assuming that HRC wanted to spark discussion and a public show of support they should be proud that they have been the first campaign of the sort to really go viral in this manner.  Let’s see who tries to follow suit.

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