When a bandwagon social media trend arises, the critics are certain to follow. Last week, while the Supreme Court heard two cases on gay marriage, a separate discussion was taking place on the Internet. An estimated 2.7 million users changed their Facebook profile picture to the Human Rights Campaign’s symbol for marriage equality. Chances are you’ve seen this image or some clever variation of it—maybe you displayed the image as your profile picture too. Using this image was an act of support for the LGBT community, a perfectly harmless statement advocating for their right to marriage equality—or so many people thought. As this trend quickly took over the sphere of social media, it was the subject of both praise and controversy.
Many people were displeased that the HRC promoted this image when they have come under fire for injustices related to the LGBT community. In 2007, they excluded transgendered people when backing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. In recent years, the HRC has also been involved in supporting major corporations, which seems rather contrary to their goals as an organization striving for equality. Derrick Clifton’s article for the Huffington Post goes into greater detail about the criticism surrounding the HRC and its involvement with the marriage equality debate. It’s my guess that most people who shared the image had no idea of the controversies surrounding the HRC. I know I wasn’t familiar with them. How does this affect the act of posting their image on Facebook and other social media outlets?
Though I didn’t change my own profile picture, I saw dozens of my friends change theirs, and I generally saw it as a good act. The intention behind it was in support and solidarity of an important cause. Changing your profile picture not only implies this support, but also that you want other people to know what side you’re on. And it’s a great way to discover just how much people care about this issue—with all the buzz about this little red and white equal sign, clearly it’s a matter of great significance among the population. With benevolent intention backing this mass trend, I don’t think the HRC’s mistakes, though disappointing, detract from the message inherent in spreading this image. The image itself is secondary to the belief that all couples have the right to get married, and it is that belief that is really at the root of posting the photo.
Still, there are a couple of things to consider when you observe or partake in any given trend like this. One, be as informed as you can be. Know what it is you’re standing for, do your own research, and reflect on your own beliefs about the issue at hand (i.e. don’t just conform to the fad because you want some Facebook “likes”). Two, don’t let your action stop there. In all honesty, the Supreme Court doesn’t care so much about your new profile picture. Sure, it’s a nice statement and collectively shows that millions of people care, but make sure you’re living out your beliefs aside from the realm of social media. Don’t let it become irrelevant once it’s no longer trendy and the image disappears from your news feed, keep the momentum going. Seek out ways to get involved on campus. For example, the student-run organization United DePauw is dedicated to promoting awareness of LGBT issues, and it’s open to all students regardless of sexuality. Attending some of their meetings and events would be a great way to further the conversation beyond your computer screen.
In regards to gay marriage, one of the most fervent debates of modern times, I think advocacy for the issue will continue to grow stronger. As it does, keep yourself up to date on the ongoing discussion. If you change your profile picture, do so thoughtfully and purposefully because it represents what you believe in—in doing this, it shouldn’t matter what the critics think.