Facebook users have been posting thousands of rainbow flag emojis on the Democratic Unionist Party’s page to protest against the party’s opposition to LGBT rights as it negotiates with Theresa May over a deal to prop up her government in Parliament.
The campaign began on Saturday after Facebook user Conor McKay posted instructions on his page for how to access the new rainbow reaction emoji, which Facebook introduced at the beginning of June to mark Pride month.
"Like this page and you get to use a pride reaction in addition to like,wow,angry,sad etc," he wrote, before adding: "Then go to the official DUP page and put a rainbow react on the DUP posts so that they have more rainbows than likes. I'm sure the homophobes will love it. Copy this status and spread the word."
And people did. Within 24 hours, the DUP's page had been bombarded with thousands of rainbow flags in response to every comment and update from the party.
But the most rainbow emojis were reserved for the first post from the party's leader, Arlene Foster. In a post responding to the results of the election she wrote: "The Prime Minister has spoken with me this morning and we will enter discussions with the Conservatives to explore how it may be possible to bring stability to our nation at this time of great challenge."
So far more than 4,400 people have responded to this with the rainbow flag emoji.
The next post from the DUP – thanking those who voted for them – has received almost as many rainbow flags, with just over 4,000. The next has over 3,000, and the two under that each have over 2,000. In total, there are over 30,000 rainbow flags fluttering over the DUP's Facebook page.
It prompted McKay to remark on his page: "It's working hahahahahahaha".
McKay, 25, from Aberdeenshire, told BuzzFeed News: "The DUP are the most [Google-] searched political party right now and also they hold homophobic views, so I thought it would be good for anyone searching them to see loads and loads of rainbow flags, so they'll know that there's more love than hate in the world."
He added: "Also, to give a chance for everyone to object – it's quite clear when you look at the site that everyone that's used a pride flag has stuck up for LGBT issues. As far as I'm concerned LGBT rights are human rights."
An agreement between the Tories and the DUP had been sprung on the public, he said.
"It was something the electorate weren't warned about in the run-up to the election – I think there's shock and dismay. I'm really concerned that they're going to undermine people's rights. We need to speak up now. We live in uncertain times and there's a real risk that if there aren't strong voices to defend rights then the rights that have been gained in the last century are at risk."
One of McKay's Facebook friends posted on his page: "I just peeked on the DUP's page and it's lit in rainbows." And on the DUP's page, users were delighted at the deluge of flags. Rose Newell wrote: "I am feeling so much pride right now, having come to the page to see 600 people got there first with the whole pride reaction to every DUP post idea. Hahaha!"
As well as the rainbow flag, users have posted pictures of two male sailors holding a rainbow flag, two gay dads with their daughter wearing a "I love my dads" T-shirt, lesbian couples, elderly same-sex couples, two women on their wedding day, and a man in a leather harness with a small dog.
The rainbow flag dates back to 1978 when Gilbert Baker, a San Franciscan artist designed it as a symbol of pride for LGBT people, with each of the colours representing the diversity of the community. Since then, its popularity has spread globally, overtaking the pink triangle – which Nazis pinned to gay concentration camp inmates in the second world war – as the prime international symbol for LGBT liberation.
Since the Conservatives fell short of an overall majority in the Commons last Friday and Theresa May embarked on talks with Northern Ireland's largest party, politicians, campaigners and members of the public have reacted with outrage. For many, the prospect of a deal between the Conservatives, who now support equal rights for LGBT people, and the DUP, which continues to oppose them, is unthinkable.
Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said she "sought assurances from the prime minister" that LGBT rights would not be eroded under any arrangement, "And I received [them]." It did little to quell the fears of the pro–equal rights public.
Since the 1970s, when the DUP launched its "Save Ulster from Sodomy Campaign" to prevent homosexuality being decriminalised, the party has repeatedly opposed human rights legislation for LGBT people.
This century alone, the DUP has voted against: the equalisation of the age of consent, same-sex couples adopting, lesbian couples seeking IVF, the Gender Recognition Act (which enhanced rights for trans people), civil partnerships, a lifting of the lifetime ban on gay men donating blood, and (on five separate occasions) same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.
Those leaving rainbow flag emojis on the DUP's page haven't stopped there. The page has also been flooded with comments from Facebook users concerned about the party's position on LGBT rights and the increased influence the party would have under a deal with the Conservatives.
"We, the peoples of Wales, England and Scotland, do not recognise your place in our democratic system," wrote Di Rosenthal. "We will fight against you and your bigoted, retrograde beliefs and policies with every fibre of our being. You are not welcome in our parliament and we deplore Theresa Mays act in aligning the Conservative party with you with the sole intention of supporting her shaky position post election."
Others were less formal. "DUP dinosaurs. No place for your ignorance and intolerance in the 21st Century – anywhere," said Terry Brereton. "A circle of the dimmest, the most regressive, the most culturally disconnected politicians in the world," added Tony Philpott.
But not everyone leaving comments or emojis on the page is pro–LGBT rights. "Don't allow the fake British 'conservatives' to weaken your resolve on pro-life, pro-family and anti-Brussels matters," wrote Stewart Cowan. "My fellow countrywoman Ruth Davidson has said she is more concerned with LGBT issues than she is with her party. These shallow people are for themselves. They may turn your stomachs, but don't let them turn your opinions."
To which, another user, Mark Barton, responded, "Have some rainbow love, Stewart, you sound like you could do with it." Barton then posted a picture of two men and a woman holding a rainbow flag.