About Those Facebook Rainbow Profile Pics

 
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Gizmodo, June 29th, 2015

Marshall McLuhan famously stated “Control the media, control the message”. He also said “the more databanks record each one of us, the less we exist”. Very prescient.

Today was my first Facebook log-in since last weeks historic SCOTUS decisions. I wasn’t surprised to see the joyful posts and rainbow profiles. But this post isn’t about SCOTUS or the politics. It’s about how Facebook is using it and using us. 

SSM was hardly the first issue to get so much play in social media, but it seems to have had the most impact. In fact, Facebook has been watching all of this very closely. Remember, Facebook is a public company under constant shareholder pressure to increase profit. Facebook has 1.44 billion products … er … I mean, Facebook has 1.44 billion active users.

Whatever your opinion is of the SCOTUS decision, Facebook feels that the historic social change provided ample opportunity to track users who placed those rainbow profiles on their page. Facebook is aggressively collecting this information and placing users who support SSM into a database, which I’m sure would never, ever be used for political purposes.

Before you feel smug satisfaction that you didn’t drape your profile in primary colors, you might wish to ask: What about those who didn’t don the rainbow? Into which database would they be placed? This overreaching Big-Brother archetype is beyond Orwellian, and it’s not the first time Facebook has done this:

… the last time there was a big profile picture protest for gay marriage, a Facebook data scientist quietly published an academic paper on the data that Facebook collected with the title “The Diffusion of Support in an Online Social Movement.” It’s not exactly beach reading, but it’s evidence that Facebook is paying close attention to how people use the social network to effect social and political change, as the Atlantic explains in more detail.

That last sentence is worth repeating. Facebook is no longer just seeing what you’re up to. Now it’s being used as a method “to effect social and political change.”

The SCOTUS decision certainly wasn’t the first massive social engineering experiment on Facebook. The so-called Arab Spring showed the world how Facebook and Twitter could be used as instruments of upheaval. The technological changes in the few years since the Arab Spring have been alarming.

We all know that by using a free social media site like Facebook, we’re willing to give up a little privacy in exchange for the perceived benefits of being connected with each other. However, the line between privacy and social engineering is becoming opaque. The impact of this on politics, policy, and the voters’ mindset shouldn’t be ignored.

Conservatives, who are generally older and less likely to rely on social media as their primary source of information, may be tempted to view Facebook as fluff. But remembering that there are 1.4 billion users — who can be manipulated and steered toward social or political change — should promptly sharpen their focus.

We should all be asking: Who are the architects of this social change, and what are their politics? One can’t help wondering what Marshall McLuhan would have to say.

There are 63 comments.

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  1. Gary McVey Contributor

    I didn’t do the rainbow profile–not my kind of thing–but if Facebook wanted to track my life, I’ve already handed them every tool to do it with. They didn’t have to hack in and steal it. Data mining to find likely liberals or conservatives isn’t new, so I don’t see much of a difference.

    • #1
    • June 29, 2015, at 7:07 PM PDT
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  2. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    Just serves to confirm my own decision:

    Why I am not on Facebook (or Twitter)

    Posted on my own blog in 2014.

    • #2
    • June 29, 2015, at 7:12 PM PDT
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  3. Dave-L Inactive

    I was initially surprised and dismayed by some of my friends that adopted the rainbow profile on their facebook pages. These were folks at whom I was genuinely surprised, knowing their positions on other topics.

    Now that the the rainbow profiles have settled out, meaning that those friends who are likely to adopt them have already done so, I am pleasantly surprised at how few actually did it. I would guess only 2-4% of my friends adopted it.

    That means 96-98% of my friends have not.

    I consider that a win.

    • #3
    • June 29, 2015, at 7:13 PM PDT
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  4. Douglas Inactive

    I’m giving serious thought to just chucking my Facebook account. “If you want me, y’all know my email address”. That kind of thing. Over the past week, I’ve had a chance to find out just what some of my “friends” are really like. Think of that pic of Ali over Liston… now add Obamacare memes and rainbow flags, and you get the idea. And I’m generally pretty quiet about politics on Facebook.

    • #4
    • June 29, 2015, at 7:19 PM PDT
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  5. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge

    Facebook must be confused about me. I selected all 58 gender options, but I did not change my profile picture.

    • #5
    • June 29, 2015, at 7:25 PM PDT
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  6. Mate De Inactive

    I find this whole rainbow profile pic thing fascinating. It’s like a glimpse into the study of groupthink. Are you sure those people who rainbowed up their profile pics did it because they supported the decision or because they didn’t want to be left out at the cool kids table? It’s a weird high school mentality, like an after school special from the. 80’s. Come on man, rainbow up your profile pic, everyone’s doing it.

    • #6
    • June 29, 2015, at 7:35 PM PDT
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  7. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Super-important point and I’m glad you raised it, David. Note that not only does FB have the power to track your political sentiment, but to shape political sentiment: Think about the amount of peer pressure it’s putting on teenagers right now to be cool and conform; and think about how easily it was able to do that. Now think about how easily they could swing an election with a series of subtle or not-so-subtle changes to the site, to the news items you see, and to the opinions you see from your “friends.”

    This is really something worth thinking about. No easy solution, since obviously FB is a private company and can say and do what they please in all matters political. But it’s a very worrying amount of power, given that FB is now our main news provider.

    • #7
    • June 29, 2015, at 9:21 PM PDT
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  8. Mate De Inactive

    Claire, you are up really early, but that is kind of the point I was making. Social media seems to be this peer pressure machine that is shaping everyone’s mind to the “correct” positions. It’s something that Orwell could never think of. Social media has its benefits too but I think it’s been a main driver of the media overreaction on things that may not be PC and this shove to the left (before they were just nudges). People have no time to think about issues or contemplate their consequences, because the next day there is a new controversy, and most people are busy and glance at a headline and move on. This maybe good for a 24 hour media conglomerate but it’s terrible for the country.

    • #8
    • June 29, 2015, at 9:29 PM PDT
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  9. Dave Sussman Contributor
    Dave Sussman Post author

    RushBabe49:Just serves to confirm my own decision:

    Why I am not on Facebook (or Twitter)

    Posted on my own blog in 2014.

    Great blog RB. I love Twitter but am about to go dark on Facebook. Frankly, beyond the OP subject, it’s boring.

    • #9
    • June 29, 2015, at 9:37 PM PDT
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  10. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Agree. One of the best writers about this is Zeynep Tufekci:

    The secret truth of power of broadcast is that while very effective in restricting limits of acceptable public speech, it was never that good at motivating people individually. Political and ad campaigns suffered from having to live with “broad profiles” which never really fit anyone. What’s a soccer mom but a general category that hides great variation?

    With new mix of big data and powerful, oligopolistic platforms (like Facebook) all that is solved, to some degree.

    Today, more and more, not only can corporations target you directly, they can model you directly and stealthily. They can figure out answers to questions they have never posed to you, and answers that you do not have any idea they have. Modeling means having answers without making it known you are asking, or having the target know that you know. This is a great information asymmetry, and combined with the behavioral applied science used increasingly by industry, political campaigns and corporations, and the ability to easily conduct random experiments (the A/B test of the said Facebook paper), it is clear that the powerful have increasingly more ways to engineer the public, and this is true for Facebook, this is true for presidential campaigns, this is true for other large actors: big corporations and governments.

    • #10
    • June 29, 2015, at 9:39 PM PDT
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  11. Dave Sussman Contributor
    Dave Sussman Post author

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Super-important point and I’m glad you raised it, David. Note that not only does FB have the power to track your political sentiment, but to shape political sentiment: Think about the amount of peer pressure it’s putting on teenagers right now to be cool and conform; and think about how easily it was able to do that. Now think about how easily they could swing an election with a series of subtle or not-so-subtle changes to the site, to the news items you see, and to the opinions you see from your “friends.”

    This is really something worth thinking about. No easy solution, since obviously FB is a private company and can say and do what they please in all matters political. But it’s a very worrying amount of power, given that FB is now our main news provider.

    Thanks Claire. I was cleaning up the OP as you commented. The good news (for me) my oldest (15) doesn’t really do social media. He is not on FB and users Twitter just for sports news. He said Instagram bored him. Hopefully that sticks.

    However, I can’t walk 25 yards in a shopping mall without sidestepping a pack of teen zombies on their phones (while they are with their friends, no less!)

    Is it this way in France?

    • #11
    • June 29, 2015, at 9:43 PM PDT
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  12. Mate De Inactive

    Oh would my lefty friend be really ticked to finally conclude, that much of that corporate influence is on their side not mine. That they on the left are the high and mighty and not the right. It seems as though leftist thrive on some kind of counter culture, downtrodden type of mentality. How will they handle it when they finally realize that they are “the man” and the right is punk rock

    • #12
    • June 29, 2015, at 9:48 PM PDT
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  13. The (apathetic) King Prawn Inactive

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Now think about how easily they could swing an election with a series of subtle or not-so-subtle changes to the site, to the news items you see, and to the opinions you see from your “friends.”

    Some of the absolute worst, leading headlines are those on the “trending” section of Facebook. I click on them sometimes because I can’t believe the stories actually say what Facebook is presenting. It’s usually the case that they aren’t. I can’t decide if this is subtle or not.

    • #13
    • June 29, 2015, at 10:07 PM PDT
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  14. Dave Sussman Contributor
    Dave Sussman Post author

    Mate De:Oh would my lefty friend be really ticked to finally conclude, that much of that corporate influence is on their side not mine. That they on the left are the high and mighty and not the right. It seems as though leftist thrive on some kind of counter culture, downtrodden type of mentality. How will they handle it when they finally realize that they are “the man” and the right is punk rock

    Yes! One of the Lefts biggest cons has been making people believe they are the counter culture: Counter Culture, Inc. is more like it.

    • #14
    • June 29, 2015, at 10:13 PM PDT
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  15. The (apathetic) King Prawn Inactive

    Just saw this on Facebook…not all hope is lost.

    fbsheep

    • #15
    • June 29, 2015, at 10:13 PM PDT
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  16. Dave Sussman Contributor
    Dave Sussman Post author

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Agree. One of the best writers about this is Zeynep Tufekci:

    Thanks for the link. This is chilling.

    I’m not focusing on this one study, or its publication, because even if Facebook never publishes another such study, the only real impact will be the disappointed researchers Facebook employs who have access to proprietary and valuable databases and would like to publish in Nature, Science and PNAS while still working for Facebook. Facebook itself will continue to conduct such experiments daily and hourly, in fact that was why the associated Institutional Review Board (IRB) which oversees ethical considerations of research approved the research: Facebook does this every day.

    • #16
    • June 29, 2015, at 10:16 PM PDT
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  17. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    David Sussman:

    However, I can’t walk 25 yards in a shopping mall without sidestepping a pack of teen zombies on their phones (while they are with their friends, no less!)

    Is it this way in France?

    Less so. A visiting friend just confirmed this: said it seemed to him people were much less glued to their phones here.

    • #17
    • June 29, 2015, at 10:23 PM PDT
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  18. drlorentz Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Agree. One of the best writers about this is Zeynep Tufekci

    Leftists must be conflicted by the work reported in the PNAS paper cited by Tufekci. On the one hand they are outraged that they were manipulated by a big bad corporation to do this study, much like rats in a maze. On the other hand they exploit social media as propaganda outlets and use them as news sources . I suppose they could be different Leftists.

    I read that PNAS paper when it came out. As with most social science research, there’s even less than meets the eye. The effects are barely significant in the technical sense. They are even less significant in the colloquial sense.

    Nevertheless, privacy is a worry. Avoid social media like the plague. It might not bite you later but horror stories abound. My only involvement is to follow some folks on Twitter (using a pseudonym, of course). I never tweet. Makes me cringe to even write that. I use email with friends. Do likewise, folks.

    • #18
    • June 29, 2015, at 11:15 PM PDT
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  19. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    Disobey.

    • #19
    • June 29, 2015, at 11:23 PM PDT
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  20. Eustace C. Scrubb Member

    #Powerwins

    • #20
    • June 30, 2015, at 12:01 AM PDT
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  21. Roberto, Crusty Old Timer Member

    People still use Facebook?

    They’re done, move on. Myspace had delusions of relevance as well.

    • #21
    • June 30, 2015, at 1:37 AM PDT
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  22. The Cloaked Gaijin Member

    It seems to me that the only thing that has risen faster than homosexual marriage is facebook. That marriage movement took about 10 to 20 years to get going. Facebook seemed to arrive around 2006-2009 and completed exploded. Before that everyone was on myspace, but suddenly everyone switched almost overnight. Was that because Rupert Murdoch bought myspace and the tech Left refused to trust him?

    Except for the ability to find a few long-lost friends, I’ve never understood the attraction of facebook. I read a few years ago that that if a person really wants to find a job or a date that that person is almost required to be on facebook?! I don’t understand why people would wish to turn over that amount of controversial information about oneself to one website.

    People constantly getting fired from jobs because they post a remark/photo on twitter or facebook that is not accepted by the politically-correct culture. If you are not a politically correct person, you should feel frightened to post anything. Confederate battle flag shorts can get someone fired. I assume that rainbow shorts would not get a person fired. What would happen if a person wore a combination of both patterns? Suspended without pay?

    In many ways I dislike twitter more. Twitter seems to exist as a replacement for urinating on enemies in public, but it at least allows a person to be a bit anonymous and apparently it makes a decent newsfeed.

    • #22
    • June 30, 2015, at 1:55 AM PDT
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  23. Liz Member
    Liz

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    David Sussman:

    However, I can’t walk 25 yards in a shopping mall without sidestepping a pack of teen zombies on their phones (while they are with their friends, no less!)

    Is it this way in France?

    Less so. A visiting friend just confirmed this: said it seemed to him people were much less glued to their phones here.

    Good for the French. Can’t say the same for the Italians. My almost 10-year-old twins are almost the only ones in their group of friends who do not have phones or other mobile devices.

    • #23
    • June 30, 2015, at 2:13 AM PDT
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  24. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Liz:

    Good for the French. Can’t say the same for the Italians.

    Neither can I. When I last flew to Italy, the waiting lounge at the airport in Paris was full of Italians, for obvious reasons. Every one of them was giving second-by-second updates about the delayed flight to every last member of his or her extended families — at top volume. The rest of the airport (including me) was staring at the rest of Gate 33, or whichever it was, giving them all the “For the love of God will you please be quiet, this is France, that is not done here” look, but to absolutely no avail.

    Italians are surgically stapled to those phones. Apparently it mandated by unwritten law that all Italians must be in contact at every moment of the day with every member of their extended families and every one of their friends and acquaintances. To fall silent for even 30 seconds is punishable, I assume, by death.

    • #24
    • June 30, 2015, at 3:03 AM PDT
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  25. Liz Member
    Liz

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Liz:

    Good for the French. Can’t say the same for the Italians.

    Neither can I. When I last flew to Italy, the waiting lounge at the airport in Paris was full of Italians, for obvious reasons. Every one of them was giving second-by-second updates about the delayed flight to every last member of his or her extended families — at top volume. The rest of the airport (including me) was staring at the rest of Gate 33, or whichever it was, giving them all the “For the love of God will you please be quiet, this is France, that is not done here” look, but to absolutely no avail.

    Italians are surgically stapled to those phones. Apparently it mandated by unwritten law that all Italians must be in contact at every moment of the day with every member of their extended families and every one of their friends and acquaintances. To fall silent for even 30 seconds is punishable, I assume, by death.

    They are also completely incapable of forming a line, or understanding the “up” side and the “down” side on a staircase.

    The French, as I recall, have no trouble at all with these concepts.

    • #25
    • June 30, 2015, at 3:10 AM PDT
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  26. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Liz: The French, as I recall, have no trouble at all with these concepts.

    None. But of course, the fact that these are different countries with entirely different histories and cultures and very different fundamental values occurred to exactly no one when they decided to unite in using a single currency with no legitimate central authority to back it up politically.

    • #26
    • June 30, 2015, at 3:24 AM PDT
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  27. MACHO GRANDE' (aka - Chri… Coolidge

    The Cloaked Gaijin:People constantly getting fired from jobs because they post a remark/photo on twitter or facebook that is not accepted by the politically-correct culture. If you are not a politically correct person, you should feel frightened to post anything. Confederate battle flag shorts can get someone fired. I assume that rainbow shorts would not get a person fired. What would happen if a person wore a combination of both patterns? Suspended without pay?

    This is a great idea. I would love to see this tried somewhere. Imagine the black hole/singularity that would result in the HR department.

    How about a rainbow Confederate flag?

    • #27
    • June 30, 2015, at 3:40 AM PDT
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  28. Liz Member
    Liz

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Liz: The French, as I recall, have no trouble at all with these concepts.

    None. But of course, the fact that these are different countries with entirely different histories and cultures and very different fundamental values occurred to exactly no one when they decided to unite in using a single currency with no legitimate central authority to back it up politically.

    Sorry to hijack the thread, but I love this comment!

    • #28
    • June 30, 2015, at 3:54 AM PDT
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  29. Dave of Barsham Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Liz: The French, as I recall, have no trouble at all with these concepts.

    None. But of course, the fact that these are different countries with entirely different histories and cultures and very different fundamental values occurred to exactly no one when they decided to unite in using a single currency with no legitimate central authority to back it up politically.

    What could possibly go wrong?! Am I right my Grecian friends?…guys?

    • #29
    • June 30, 2015, at 4:24 AM PDT
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  30. Dave of Barsham Member

    Liz:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Liz:

    Good for the French. Can’t say the same for the Italians.

    Neither can I. When I last flew to Italy, the waiting lounge at the airport in Paris was full of Italians, for obvious reasons. Every one of them was giving second-by-second updates about the delayed flight to every last member of his or her extended families — at top volume. The rest of the airport (including me) was staring at the rest of Gate 33, or whichever it was, giving them all the “For the love of God will you please be quiet, this is France, that is not done here” look, but to absolutely no avail.

    Italians are surgically stapled to those phones. Apparently it mandated by unwritten law that all Italians must be in contact at every moment of the day with every member of their extended families and every one of their friends and acquaintances. To fall silent for even 30 seconds is punishable, I assume, by death.

    They are also completely incapable of forming a line, or understanding the “up” side and the “down” side on a staircase.

    The French, as I recall, have no trouble at all with these concepts.

    This is one of those things that after living there for a year I dropped the whole “It’s not wrong, it’s just different,” philosophy.

    • #30
    • June 30, 2015, at 4:25 AM PDT
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