When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same sex marriage, Facebook was ablaze with status updates, link shares, and photo uploads. If you were on Facebook in the hours following the landmark decision, it sure seemed like the entire world was sounding off – or at least you and your friends.
Soon after, Facebook announced a seemingly fun and easy new tool – a way for users to "celebrate pride" and show off their support for the ruling.
The tool allowed users to rainbow-ify their profile pictures with a filter overlay. Simple enough.
Mark Zuckerberg did it. Arnold Schwarzenegger did it. Your mom probably did it. Everyone was doing it.
In fact, in about three days, Facebook says that 26 million users rainbowed their profile pictures – and these received over a half a billion likes and comments.
But it didn't take long for some to question Facebook's motivations. Had Facebook simply capitalized on an emotional, highly-charged moment to run yet another experiment on its users? Was this all just a big data grab?
"All this raises a serious question: Is Facebook doing research with its “Celebrate Pride” feature? Facebook's data scientists have attracted public scrutiny for conducting experiments on its users: tracking their moods and voting behavior. Much less attention has been given to their ongoing work to better understand collective action and social change online," asked The Atlantic
Social testing? Data tracking for ads? Exactly what was Facebook up to?
None of that, really, says the company.
"This was not an experiment or test, but rather something that enables people to show their support of the LGBTQ community on Facebook," said the company in a statement. “We aren't going to use this as a way to target ads and the point of this tool is not to get information about people.”
But of course, Facebook has the data. How else would it know how many people changed their profile pic? How else would they know the level of interaction on said pics?
Is Facebook tracking your every move? Of course. Is every bit of tracking for the purpose of ad sales? It's hard to say. Facebook says this was simply an exercise in giving the community a way to show pride. Do you believe them?