This past week, Facebook turned red.
This partial transformation (partial depending on the politics and beliefs of your Facebook friends) followed a request early Tuesday morning by the Human Rights Campaign – an advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals – that their followers change their profile picture to a red version of the organization’s “equals sign” logo. According to the Huffington Post, by Tuesday afternoon, HRC’s red logo had been shared 45,000 times and received 13,000 likes. I presume by the end of day, judging by my own Facebook feed, that the number was much higher.
I didn’t change my profile picture.
Let me tell you why:
Perhaps I over-thought this one, but I couldn’t figure out the appropriate protocol. When would it be appropriate to bring back the cute photo of Alex and me? After the two days of Supreme Court hearings? A week or a month from now? During the summer after the Court makes its decision? Since I ALWAYS believe that gays, lesbians, bi-sexual and transgender individuals and couples should have exactly the same rights that I do, shouldn’t I keep the red equals sign up forever? I didn’t want to take it down too quickly and run the risk of looking like I changed my profile photo just because everyone else did, and I didn’t want to do something solely because it, for one moment, was a cool thing to do. It’s always cool to support equal rights.
HRC’s marketing campaign (that’s what it was – and an incredibly smart one too) got me thinking about whether changing one’s avatar or something equivalent is the new way to “protest” in the social and digital age. Don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely fine with everyone changing their avatars.
But it’s not the equivalent of taking real action, at least not for the majority of people. Now, some of my Facebook friends who changed their profile photo (and some who didn’t) took to the streets to show support/protest against discrimination. Some have donated money directly to an advocacy group like HRC. Some speak out regularly, at their church, their child’s school, their workplace, in support of equal rights of all kinds.
So does “protesting” digitally really change anything without any subsequent action? Does it raise awareness? Sure, I’ll agree to that, just by the fact that I didn’t even know (yes, ignorant me) that the two cases were going to the Supreme Court this week. And, I’m assuming HRC and others like George Takei (who would have made Malcolm Gladwell proud), benefitted from the awareness and traction. The fact, however, that not a single Facebook friend of mine posted anything in support of maintaining Prop 8 or the Defense of Marriage Act tells me at least with my small sample size that no debate occurred on Facebook, only one-way communication (though perhaps FB isn’t the best place for debate).
We do know that social media was critical to movements like the Arab Spring to help people organize and communicate (e.g. take action). And, it’s likely at some level that a digital storm of support or opposition can help sway public opinion.
We also know, unfortunately, that the social media outcry following the Newtown tragedy has done very little to bring any meaningful legislation forward against gun control (our parents and grandparents would have taken to the streets like they did for civil rights or the Vietnam War). And, we can assume at this point that if the Supreme Court does making a significant ruling, it will be done according to party lines.
I’m very interested to see how social media evolves over the next few years, and whether it can provide people the opportunity to take meaningful action (and foster true dialogue) for things people believe in. My personal belief is that like many controversial issues, some will lend themselves to social media, and some won’t, and people and organizations will learn the best way to optimize (yeah, corporate speak) their approach.
In the meantime, I have a modest solution.
Facebook should charge $0.25 when you change your avatar to one represented by a non-profit organization. Facebook (it is a for-profit company after all) keeps $0.02 and the other $0.23 goes to the non-profit. And, you pay another $0.25 to change it back.
Surely a cause you believe in is worth $.50.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/majunznk