If you have a Facebook account, I guarantee you've seen tons of those little rainbow profile pictures all over your news feed. Is it all just political activism or is Facebook running another psychology experiment?
Last Friday, the United States Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage as legal across all 50 states. To help users celebrate this news, Facebook added a function called "Celebrate Pride" that allowed people to add a rainbow filter to their profile pictures. This rainbow feature is meant to show users' support of the ruling, but this isn't the first time Facebook offered its users a way to share their political beliefs.
Facebook users saw something like this in 2013 when millions of people turned their profile pictures into the red equal sign to support the human rights marriage equality campaign. According to Facebook officials, over 2.7 million people changed their picture on the first day of the campaign.
But now, users and Internet experts are growing skeptical that Facebook's newest rainbow tool isn't just to help its users support equal marriage rights but to secretly gain information about political trends and your voting habits. All of this might sound like paranoid speculation, but there could be some information to back it up.
According to J. Nathan Mathias of the Atlantic, "Even if Celebrate Pride isn’t a randomized trial, Facebook’s researchers could still retrieve user data in the future to test predictive theories. If changing one’s profile image to celebrate pride is less risky in 2015 after the Supreme Court decision, will the adoption of the rainbow filter have spread more like an interesting photo and less like the solidarity of March 2013?"
Not only does Facebook use this information to figure out your voting habits and political involvements, it also uses the data to figure out more wide-sweeping information. They can use the number of profile photo changes to determine the likelihood a gay couple with supportive straight friends is to get married, or the opinion of a group of users with the rainbow profile picture.
This type of activism is called "slack-tivism" and is thought to rarely develop into real supportive actions like signing petitions, rallies and other activities.
This type of online support is explained by studies like one done by Bogdan State and Lada Adamic. They used the red equal sign campaign to make their point. The study states, "In March of 2013, 3 million Facebook users changed their profile picture to one of an equals sign to express support of same-sex marriage. We demonstrate that this action shows .... most users observing several of their friends changing their profile picture before taking the action themselves."
That means that most "supporters" waited to see if their friends changed their profile pictures before they took the leap and did it themselves.
Regardless of the reason people change their photos, I still don't like the idea of Facebook keeping track of what I do and why I do it. But what do you think about this? Tell me by leaving a comment below.