Last week on Facebook, you likely saw a number of your friends change their profile picture to a red square with a pink equals sign. These Facebook users (including yours truly) were doing so to show support for equality rights as the US Supreme Court debated Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Those folks were not alone. According to Facebook itself, approximately 2.7 million Facebook users changed their profile pic as well. Tremendous reach, but the question remains: did it have any impact?
In this case, “impact” needs to be defined. Unlike US Congressmen or MPs here in Canada, the Supreme Court Justices are not elected. They do not weigh public sentiment on the issue. So direct contact would serve little benefit.
Rather, the impact should be viewed in terms of changing societal norms. This is where such a campaign would have some effect. According to Scientific American, by demonstrating “social proof” that same-sex marriage is widely accepted (at least with your Facebook friends) a descriptive norm is being established, which could very well alter thinking on the subject:
“We don’t just respond to descriptive norms — we respond particularly strongly to descriptive norms set by the people that we care about. Which, presumably, includes the people (or at least, some of the people) that we are linked to on Facebook.”
In these parts we often focus on the tangible impacts of social media, in some cases wider impacts can’t always be easily measured, but they are decidedly felt.