Rainbow Facebook photos: Armchair activism or shifting tide?

Rainbow Facebook photos: Armchair activism or shifting tide?
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Facebook

NEW YORK — You may have noticed your Facebook friends getting considerably more colorful.

More than 26 million Facebook profile photos have taken on a rainbow hue in the days since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday that marriage is a right guaranteed under the Constitution regardless of a person’s sexual orientation.

People have been covering their profile photos with the Facebook-supplied overlay that uses the best-known symbol of the LGBT rights movement: the rainbow.

Call it armchair activism. Call it a mark of a shifting tide in public opinion. The rainbows are the latest sign of the important place social media has taken in our lives, when it comes to self-expression, politics and privacy.

Rainbow-tinted celebrities have popped up all around, and not just Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Leonardo DiCaprio and “Fifty Shades of Grey” author E.L. James are among those that have used the filter.

Leslie Gabel-Brett, director of education and public affairs at Lambda Legal, a national nonprofit that focuses on legal issues affecting the LGBT community, said the overlay is “fun” and “effective.” But she said it’s also important for people know there are other ways to show support.

“There’s more to be done from voting, making donations, to speaking to your families, neighbors and coworkers,” she said.

While the people who’ve used the overlay is a fraction of Facebook’s 1.4 billion users worldwide, the number is far bigger than the last mass profile photo change on the site. In 2013, some 3 million Facebook users changed their photos to show a pink-on-red equal sign in support of gay marriage. Four years earlier, in what might have been the first large-scale profile-photo activism, Twitter users turned their photo green to support pro-democracy protesters in Iran.

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Michelle Zubiate Ferchaw, a mother of two who lives in Anaheim Hills, California, found out about the Supreme Court decision on Facebook, she “cried tears of relief and of joy.” Many of her “equally joyous” Facebook friends were turning rainbow, so she did the same.

“It was a great opportunity to join the celebration,” she wrote in a Facebook message.

To get the Facebook-suppled filter, users click on someone else’s rainbow picture. Or they go to the “Celebrate Pride” page Facebook set up.

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