Facebook profile photo changes reveal trends in support for same-sex marriage

March 29, 2013
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(This article was first published on Revolutions, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

EqualityOn Tuesday and Wednesday this week, the US Supreme Court heard two landmark cases related to same-sex marriage rights in this country. Simultaneously, to show solidarity for the cause of civil rights for gay members of society, thousands of Facebook users changed their profile pictures to a red equality symbol at the suggestion of the Human Rights Campaign. Most profile pictures looked like the one shown at right, but there were also many variants used as well. (By the way, here's R code use can use to generate the red equality logo, with thanks to Josef Fruehwald.)

The change in Facebook profiles provided some interesting information about the support of advances in gay rights across the USA. Some clever data science from Facebook's Eytan Bakshy reveals that there was indeed a significant increase in the rate of profile picture changes during the oral hearings:

Profile change trend

(The chart above is the result of a time-series analysis using the R language, after extracting the normal day-night cycle of profile updates.) Moreover, by looking at the rate of changes of Facebook profiles across every county in the USA in a choropleth, we see those regions where support for gay rights is the strongest:

Profile changes map

While it's unlikely that the Justices will consult Facebook profiles as part of their deliberations, the proceedings did seem to be favourable to the advance of day rights. (Especially for the second case regarding DOMA, which if overturned will be a hugely positive outcome for thousands of couples already married, including me and my husband.) But for those of us for whom this cause means so much personally, it was truly heartwarming to see that sea of red from allies all across the county. What strikes me so much about the map above is that support is coming from all across the country — not one county is a totally unsupportive white. And that's something that all of America can be proud of.

Facebook (Eytan Bakshy): Showing Support for Marriage Equality on Facebook (via Sean J. Taylor)

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