Showing posts with label Opinion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Opinion. Show all posts

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Armchair Activism and an Equals Sign

 Undoubtedly, if you are a Facebook user you have been witness to a lot of profile picture changes within the last few weeks. Specifically, around March 26 when the Human Rights Campaign challenged their followers to change their profile pictures to one of the image below (the far left is most popular, and the latter two were for giggles).

 In an article posted on the Fast Company website, an overview is given to some of the analysis that the Facebook Data Science Team cooked up.  You can find it here. What's especially interesting about this event is how it's given researchers some significant insights into activism and how different demographics respond. The team observed that 120% more users (than the previous Tuesday) changed their profile picture over the course of a day. As you can see below, after applying a time-series model, the data shows a very obvious, positive trend.
The team used the changes to indicate the "stance" of each user on the marriage-equality issue. This resulted in giving the team data on the gender of "activists" as well as their age. Even more interestingly, it gave them geographic information in the form of frequency per county (below). Wouldn't you love to have access to their numbers? To read the full break down, visit here.
Further, as we've discussed in class, there is a lot that one can learn from the images themselves. I was interested that the team didn't do any data extraction on the actual images. I think that one reason might be that as the images were saved and re-saved as they transferred from user to user, the quality of the picture degraded (as you can see below). Thus, pixel data may have been skewed. But, I ask the question because I observed a lot of people I know changing their profile pictures in support of Proposition 8 (the legislation in question) which is in opposition of equal marital rights (as defined as man and woman). So, the mere fact that profile pictures were changing doesn't necessarily (to me) represent a full indication of the frequency of support of one side or the other. My observations were that people were changing their picture (in large part) as a response to what others were doing.
 And you also have people (like me) that chose to use the tense climate to recognize things that are TRULY significant... like the fact that April is Mathematics Appreciation Month which coincidentally had a strong association with the symbols being used in this virtual human rights rally.

In closing, I think that the truly significant and telling statistics would be things like:
  • The amount of people that changed their profile picture and are registered to vote.
  • Or, that have ever written/called/have heard of their state elected officials.
  • Or, made any other action whatsoever outside of clicking "edit profile picture".
Pardon my cynicism, and let me explain. I have seen time and again microcosms of the same event transpire on campus. We have a very active and vocal student body that have some great things to say in regards to: tuition, state appropriations, academic excellence, etc. However, if I were to weigh the amount of times I've seen people post an uninformed, aggressive comment on Social Media against the amount of times I've seen said individuals at a Board of Trustee meeting, SGA Senate meeting, or University Senate meeting... the scale would bottom-out. I wholeheartedly believe that for our country to move past this climate of bipartisanship, we will have to engage in informed, healthy debate. And while social media is an excellent platform for this to take place, ultimately policy is decided by appointed officials so it's our duty to first be an informed electorate, vote for the best candidate, and hold them accountable to their actions by keeping our voice known to them directly.