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Facebook's Data Team Crunches Numbers On Red Equality Profile Pictures

Did it seem like Facebook was extra red this week? Facebook’s Data Science Team posted a note highlighting the activity on Facebook around this week’s debate on the future of same-sex marriage in the United States.

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This week while the Supreme Court began debating issues concerning same-sex marriage, Facebook profile pictures were swamped with red symbols of equality. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) started urging people on Monday, March 25, to change their Facebook profile pictures to a pink-on-red equal sign to show support for marriage equality. Since then, many variations of the symbol have been created all over the internet. To get a clearer picture of the potential level of support for marriage equality on Facebook, they examined how many U.S. users changed their profile photos over the past few days.

Facebook’s Data Science Team just posted a note with the results:

Time Trends:

The results show that while millions of U.S. Facebook users update their profile photos on a given day, that significantly more users — roughly 2.7 million (120%) more, updated their profile photo on Tuesday, March 26, compared with the previous Tuesday. In the graph, the dashed line indicated when HRC launched its campaign.


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The data team then compared the proportion of users who logged in on Tuesday, March 26, and updated their profile picture with that proportion the week before (March 19), broken down by age. Clearly across all age groups, more individuals changed their profile photos on March 26 (red), compared with the previous week (black). Those closest to 30 years old showed the greatest increase in updating.


Facebook: facebook-data-science

To show the estimated increase in profile changes for each county, the team constructed a statistical model to estimate the likelihood that an individual in a given county would change their profile picture on March 26. They then compared the week-over-week increase. Counties with more intense colors can be thought to have greater turnout as a result of the HRC equals campaign.

Biggest increase? Washtenaw County, home of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the University of Michigan, topped the list. The counties with the biggest increase were from college towns such as Monroe (Indiana University), Johnson (University of Iowa), and Athens (Ohio University). Shockingly, many counties housing large cities, like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City, showed only modest increases (2.4-2.9%) in support.

Facebook's Team had one closing thought: "For a long time, when people stood up for a cause and weren't all physically standing shoulder to shoulder, the size of their impact wasn't immediately apparent. But today, we can see the spread of an idea online in greater detail than ever before. That's data well worth finding."

See the note here.