2.7 Million

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Last week according to Facebook, approximately 2.7 million people changed their profile image to the gay marriage equality sign as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, which bans the right for same-sex couples to marry, and a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act. Facebook's analytics team determined that "roughly 3.5 percent of 30-year-old U.S. Facebook" users took part in the visual protest.

As someone who watches commentary on social web activism closely, an interesting aspect of this campaign was the limited amount of heckling by journalists and public intellectuals who derogate any social web action as 'slacktivism', something of a lesser order than fighting in the streets (which most have never done and which is anyway beside the point).

A quick Google search results in little in the way of naysaying punditry — although I seem to recall, but can't find, a reference to the fact the Supreme Court is unlikely to support the challenges simply because 2.7 million Americans changed their Facebook image to a pink equal sign. True . . . but again not the point.

Could it be that the old 'slacktivism' axiom has been laid to rest? Maybe we are beginning to recognize that just because social web self-expression is easy to achieve it is no less functional as an advocacy mechanism. In the case of the pink equality sign, it is an expression by millions of support for a progressive and sensitive social sensibility.

The Supreme Court is unlikely to take Facebook support into account in its decision-making. But it doesn't really matter if in this instance a direct line can't be drawn between Facebook activism and a Supreme Court decision. What matters more is the fact that millions have expressed themselves — with unity of purpose and ideal — to their friends, family, businesses, senators and members of congress on a significant social issue. As Mary Joyce's Meta-Activism Blog points out in the title of a post on the issue: "It's Not Slacktivism if it Changes Culture." 

Or, as Boston comedian Dama Jay Bein put it: "Seeing all of the people who support can inspire people to take MORE action – small change. I’d much rather see red equal signs than pictures of Grumpy Cat and ironic self shots.”

This post was written by Boyd Neil, National Practice Leader, Social Media and Digital Communications, H+K Strategies Canada.