The data scientists at Facebook – particularly Eytan Bakshy – have produced an excellent set of public analytics on Human Rights Campaign‘s equality avatar initiative, which some have called slacktivism. Facebook’s full report is here. Of the many graphics Facebook produced, the one above particularly caught my eye.
It reveals the likelihood that a person in a given US county would change their profile pic to HRC’s red and pink equality symbol. The darker the shade of red, the more Facebook users in the county were likely to adopt the equality symbol. Of course, seeing that map made me think of this map:
The map above, created by The Washington Post, shows 2012 voting behavior by county. Here, the strength of the red or blue tone of the county indicates the strength of the Republican or Democratic win in that county.
First of all, I love that the Facebook data people, perhaps unconsciously, used the image of the red county to represent strong support for a socially liberal cause instead of strong support for a socially conservative party.
But what I really love is how the map shows that Americans are a lot more tolerant and liberal than electoral maps indicate. Based on the electoral maps we have all seen so often, we think of the US as having liberal coasts and cities and a conservative “heartland.” The Facebook map of avatar changes doesn’t show such clear geographic distinctions. Though the South is a notably paler than the rest of the country, the Southwest, West, Northwest, and Great Lakes region are all pretty rosy.
Let’s take Wyoming as an example. Looking at the electoral map, we see a deep red state with a blob of dark blue on the western edge, along the border with Idaho. Looking at the Facebook map, we again see this area is darker red than the other Wyoming counties, but the darkest red county is actually in the southeast corner of the state, and there are a number of other counties that are distinctively pink. None of that support for progressivism is captured in the electoral map.
So what does this mean? Clearly this is a map of one particular instance of digital activism, and it is a model, not a count of actual profile changes. Still it reveals that Americans all over the country support marriage equality and that the red and blue of electoral differences fails to capture the subtle distinctions of political opinion. Though the man in Cheyenne may vote Republican, he may also have gay co-worker whom he goes out to lunch with every day.
Thanks to Facebook for mining their data on digital activism, and for making the results public.