Critics Warn ‘Celebrate Pride’ Tool May Be Another Psychological Test

Posted: June 29, 2015 in Tech
Tags: , ,

By overlaying their profile photos with a rainbow filter, Facebook users began celebrating in a way we haven’t seen since March 2013, when 3 million people changed their profile images to a red equals sign—the logo of the Human Rights Campaign—as a way to support marriage equality. This time, Facebook provided a simple way to turn profile photos rainbow-colored. More than 1 million people changed their profile in the first few hours, according to the Facebook spokesperson William Nevius, and the number continues to grow.

“This is probably a Facebook experiment!” joked the MIT network scientist Cesar Hidalgo on Facebook yesterday. “This is one Facebook study I want to be included in!” wrote Stacy Blasiola, a communications Ph.D. candidate at the University of Illinois, when she changed her profile.

In March, the company published a paper that got little outside attention at the time, research that reveals some of the questions Facebook might be asking now. In “The Diffusion of Support in an Online Social Movement,” Bogdan State, a Stanford Ph.D. candidate, and Lada Adamic, a data scientist at Facebook, analyzed the factors that predicted support for marriage equality on Facebook back in March 2013. They looked at what factors contributed to a person changing his or her profile photo to the red equals sign, but the implication of their research is much larger: At stake is our understanding of whether groups of citizens can organize online—and how that collective activity affects larger social movements.

Scholars and activists have debated the effectiveness of profile-image campaigns since at least 2009, when Twitter users turned their profiles green, joined Facebook groups, and changed their location setting to Tehran in support of Iranian protesters. Experts downplayed the importance of such actions; Global Voices Iran editor Fred Petrossian argued that talk of a Twitter revolution “reveals more about Western fantasies for new media than the reality in Iran.” Evgeny Morozov, who was a Yahoo fellow at the time, called it “slacktivism,” a “harmless activism” that “wasn’t very productive.”

Pictured is the spread of membership in LGBT Facebook Groups across the US. By setting up its own tool to let people filter their profile picture, the concern is that Facebook is able to get an unprecedented insight into how to influence people’s views, such as their support for same-sex marriage.

Full Story @ [The Atlantic]

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