Were All Those Rainbow Profile Photos Another Facebook Study?

J. Nathan Matias, The Atlantic, Jul 01, 2015
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Although I was on one of those celebrating the recent Supreme Court decision in the United States, I did not join the roughly one million Facebook users who converted their profile photos to rainbows. Why? Not because I'm insufficiently enthusiastic, but because I don't trust Facebook, and I trust Facebook applications even less. This lack of trust is well-founded. "Even with same-sex marriage now legal across the United States, coming out or claiming those rights by getting married will continue to be a socially courageous act., Facebook's past research on marriage equality has helped answer a question we all face when deciding to act politically: Does the courage to visibly—if virtually—stand up for what a person believes in have an effect on that person’s social network." Sure, I'd love to know the answer to this. But conducting research on uninformed subjects facing potentially serious consequences is unethical.

Related: if the government told you to change your profile image, would you comply? What would research on this look like? The other day in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on people to takee selfies with their daughters. India's netizens responded in the thousands. It's a good cause - "Gender inequality has long been a major problem in India’s highly patriarchal society, where female children are being perceived as inferior and even killed in the womb or as infants — a phenomenon Modi has fought to reverse." But at a certain point, call-and-response becomes compliance.

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