The Truth Behind Your Rainbow Profile Picture

Posted on July 15, 2015

Photo: flickr

It was purely emotional for some. But social scientists-- and Facebook data crunchers-- probably viewed it more quantitatively, and in that case it was a gold mine. Facebook has gotten significant press about their attempts to manipulate users for the sake of research about mood-- but fewer people have noticed their continuous data collection about how social media affects social change.

The last watershed moment for gay and lesbian rights, followed by massive profile pic changes to the symbol for the Human Rights campaign-- was studied intently, and it was discovered, among other things, that people don't tend to change their profile pic in this way until several of their friends have been seen doing it.

Facebook users have shown themselves to be extremely willing and maybe unwitting participants. Many of them give the social media behemoth anything and everything about their lives, from birthdays and full names and birthplaces and cell phone numbers to family pictures.

On the other hand, many people still don't realize what they're truly signing up for when they agree to have a Facebook account. And, no matter how much someone wants to show their support in a profile picture that their friends see, that doesn't automatically mean they want to be permanently archived and identified to unknown scientists that way.

Perhaps for a lot of us, though, the moment was historic enough in this particular case to just let it go. As doctoral candidate Stacy Blasiola said in the aforementioned piece in The Atlantic, "This is one Facebook study I want to be included in!"


Source material from