The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) created an image of a pink equal sign on a red background to signify support for gay marriage as the Supreme Court began meeting to consider the future of same-sex marriage in the U.S. The image was promoted by HRC in a variety of ways, and if your friend group is anything like mine, you probably saw facebook go red around the end of March in 2013. The meme took on a variety fo different forms, but the HRC image was the foundation. Martha Stewart’s iteration was my personal favorite (the red velvet cake to the right).
Facebook noticed the trend too. But can we measure support for same-sex marriage with facebook profile pictures? Not exactly. Millions of U.S. facebookers change their profile picture on any given day. Heck, I have a few friends overly fond of selfies who change their profile pictures more than once a day. But, on Tuesday, March 26th—one day after HRC started the campaign urging people to change their profile pictures—2.7 million more Americans changed their profile pictures than normal. This is about 120% more than normal. Facebook was able to show that there was a strong correlation between this increase and the specific time that HRC started asking facebook users to change their profile pictures. They also showed that facebook profile picture updates were more likely among younger Americans (under 40 years old).
This is consistent with demographic data on shifts in American opinions about same-sex marriage and sexual equality more generally. For instance, a recent report released by the Pew Center documented that about 50% of Americans favor the legalization of same-sex marriage. But this conceals generational discrepancies in support like the fact that 70% of individuals born after 1980 favor same-sex marriage compared with less than 40% of baby boomers.