Shane BarnhillSaturday,30 March 2013

The Snap:

Over the past week, I have been pleased to see the outpouring of support for marriage equality in my Facebook feed. Dozens of friends (it seems like most of them, actually), have joined in on the trend of people who are changing their Facebook avatars to the red sign of equality that has been made available for free re-use by the Human Rights Campaign. My Facebook feed is a sea of red, signaling support for equal rights.

The Download:

But do you know who hasn’t changed his Facebook avatar?


To be clear, I’m in favor of marriage equality. I abhor the prejudice behind continued attempts to segregate people into groups who somehow deserve lesser rights (not different, but lesser — that’s an important distinction). However, an avatar change is a lazy version of support. It requires very little effort, and has almost zero impact on influencing change — unless, of course, you include changing perceptions of how your Facebook friends view you (which, admit it, you narcissist, is one of your goals).

Real change requires you to put the work in. I learned this lesson during the last widespread outbreak of avatar change flu, when the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was the cause du jour. I changed my Twitter avatar for that cause, and I even blogged about the issue in order to raise awareness. But neither of those efforts compared with actually reaching out to my Congressional representative to discuss his position on the issue. I came away with a better understanding of his (favorable) position on the issue, and I felt like my voice had been heard. My avatar change felt pretty meaningless compared to my Congressman’s assurances that he would do his part to help defeat SOPA.

Consequently, I’m done with avatar changes as symbolic gestures. I’d rather focus on what matters.

I realize that Supreme Court judges and House reps are apples and oranges. It’s not as if any of us can simply drop Chief Justice John Roberts a line to let him know that our continued support depends upon his respect for basic human rights and the separation of Church and State. And believe me, Justice Antonin Scalia is spending exactly zero minutes counting the number of changed avatars in his Facebook feed as he prepares for his vote on this landmark issue.

But that doesn’t mean change is impossible. You may not be able to influence Justice Sonia Sotomayor, but you can do your part to support equality in a real way. For example, if you’re a parent, then you can start by talking with your kids about human rights. This may not change the Supreme Court’s ruling about the legitimacy of California’s Prop 8, but you’ll be helping to influence the next generation of voters who, if marriage equality is delayed this year, will ensure that it comes up for another vote when the time is right.

Because, make no mistake — non-differentiated marriage rights will happen in the United States. It’s just that your Facebook avatar won’t have anything to do with it.

Hat Tips:

Here and Now, The New York Times, Image Credit: Flickr.

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  1. […] things I know about social media is that I don’t know as much about it as Shane does who is “done with avatar changes as symbolic gestures. I’d rather focus on what matters.” I will defer to his views on the efficacy of Twitter. #bottom_links { position: relative; […]

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