Can using Facebook help gay rights and other causes?
Seven months ago I co-founded a Facebook page called Gay Marriage Oregon. There is a misconception that everyone in Oregon supports equality. We are a state known for its liberalism, but we have yet to legalize marriage equality – in fact Oregon has explicitly banned same-sex couples from marrying. We started the page to do our part, no matter how humble, to support marriage equality.
As a lesbian the issue isn’t abstract: I live the inequalities LGBT people face, not just in Oregon but also across America and throughout the world. Recently I’ve been thinking about what Facebook pages like mine are realistically doing in our fight for equality. Am I making a difference or am I just wasting my time?
Many people would think that Facebook page couldn’t possibly make any meaningful difference. It’s all about “likes” and “shares” and posting photos, how could something online make a difference in the real world? I reject these doubts – I’m certain even the smallest of pages makes a difference, and I’d like to explain why.
Over 900 million people have Facebook accounts – it is the most popular social network in the world. People of all ages login from their smartphones, check it while they’re at school, and update it from work all day long. Though it may seem superficial, websites like Facebook are shaping how we see the world: we don’t just learn about world events on Facebook; we also stay in touch with family and friends on Facebook.
Large Facebook pages like Gay Marriage USA (over 200,000 “likes”), Being Liberal (over 320,000 “likes”), and George Takei (over 2.3 million “likes”) post equality content daily and we see these ideas spread through the Internet, eventually changing the way we think about issues.
Even in the United States where a large number of people still don’t support equality (the U.S. is split about 50/50), it is quickly becoming unpopular to express an anti-equality stance. Public perception has changed so that many now know or are starting to figure out that homophobia isn’t going to be tolerated. Even the rapper 50 Cent (known for his homophobic lyrics) has changed now that it’s no longer “cool” to be against equality:
I think everyone should be happy. I think a fool is going to go against same sex marriage at this point… Look how long it took him [Obama] to say he was for same sex marriages. You understand? I’m up for it. If everyone else is for it, then hey, to each his own. I don’t have personal feelings towards it because I’m not involved in that lifestyle. I want people to be happy. It makes for everything to be better. (Source: http://bit.ly/KkeaCI)
Of course, 50 cent still has a bit of work to do to become a gay-advocate – but he is moving towards tolerance.
The change isn’t only because of Facebook and the Internet, but the medium has certainly played a big part, and I believe Facebook is going to continue to push us forward in our fight for equality. The “likes” and “shares” each post receives varies depending on how much it resonates with people. Over the past seven months, our page and its posts have earned thousands and thousands of shares. Our reach is enormous (sometimes over 300,000 people a week) and anytime people who don’t support equality see this content shared by their friends and family, peer-pressure pushes them to consider their perception of marriage equality.
Obviously not everyone is going to change their mind, but slowly it will become apparent that we’re moving into a more inclusive world: a world where LGBT people are going to have rights and are, at the very least, going to have to be tolerated. That shift in our society is my objective for Gay Marriage Oregon – I want to educate, inform and get people to think about things in a different way. I want them to buy into treating everyone equally under the law.
Let’s look at two examples of how this works:
The first example (and the one I’m the most proud of) is a photo album with photos created from quotes by straight allies. One weekend I posed a question to the straight members of Gay Marriage Oregon, asking them why they supported marriage equality. The responses were overwhelming and inspiring, and rather than have the conversation end there, I used their quotes to make images, and then encouraged them so that people on their friend list will see them. Some of the quotes are so touching and personal that it would be hard for it not to provoke a positive response.
The next example is simpler – it was a graphic I created that says, “Not afraid to openly show my support for my LGBT friends and family. Will you join me in openly showing your support?” It’s a simple photo with a simple message, but I created it to be something that would be shared and that would encourage others to show their support – even if they’ve never thought to do it before. That image has been shared over 1,500 times, and I hope that more people spread more images like that. When people see that their friends and family openly support equality, they feel safer publicly expressing their own support for equality.
It may initially seem silly to create and like these pages, I believe strongly in the power of social media. We live in a world where these discussions and these photos and other content do make a difference and do shape the way we all feel about the world we live in.
No contribution to the fight for equality is insignificant: find a gay rights page you like and make a point to support their efforts every single day (share their photos and articles, encourage others to join their page, comment on and discuss content with others). If we all join together to be active supporters of equality, we can make a significant difference.