The choice to log in to Facebook is made daily all over the world. Facebook allows users to convey a version of themselves online for public viewing. Users are able to represent who they are including their likes and dislikes, but also their group associations to their friend community. Earlier this year, Facebook unveiled a tool that allowed users to take their profile image, overlay it with a Facebook rainbow graphic, and post it as a show of solidarity for the same sex marriage ruling in the United States. To users, this seemed like an outward display of solidarity on the part of Facebook for this human rights advancement, and while this may be the case, this is an example of actor-network theory, where Facebook as a platform is acting as a mediator to “… [shape] the performance of social acts instead of merely facilitating them” (Van Dijck 29). Facebook is having users display their support for same sex marriage by changing the appearance of their profile image in a standardized way, and in doing so, Facebook is changing the ways users can demonstrate advocacy online, while maintaining social connectedness.
When Facebook allows users to demonstrate their support for same sex marriage by changing their profile image, the platform is creating a way to measure online activism and the function of online mobilization for a cause. In the same way that LinkedIn is coding the ways employers and job seekers connect (Ibid), I would speculate that Facebook, under the guise of supporting human rights advancement, is coding to measure associations that are more challenging to determine online, including the support of same sex marriage. Facebook’s measurement may also extend to examine which demographics, identifiable by gender, race and geographical region are most clearly showing their support, as well as analytics about the image itself, as indicated by the length of time the display image remains posted.
To the public, Facebook appears to be a platform that is showing support for a large human rights advancement, but it is important to remember that the status updates pertaining to Facebook, including changing profile images “…makes use of designated affordances and constraints, as well as emerging cultural convention, in order to coax life narratives from its users” (Morrison 119). Facebook is attempting to have users display their activism through a standardized profile image template in order to collect personal data about the user’s preferences and affiliations.
Morrison, Aimée. “Facebook and Coaxed Affordances.” Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online. Eds. Poletti, Anna and Julie Rak. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2014.
Van Dijck, José, “Chapter 2: Disassembling Platforms, Reassembling Sociality.” The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.