Design

Does changing your profile picture stop SOPA?

Should we change our profile pictures?

Is there power in changing your profile picture as a form of protest? I questioned this during the Arab Spring in my blog in two posts:

Do algorithms suppress us or set us free?

I questioned the power of algorithms, namely Facebook’s, in this post. I wrote this soon after Malcom Gladwell’s notable piece that argued the revolution was tweeted. This was around the time when people on social media were changing their profile pictures or posting statuses as a form of protest.

Lets come back to Gladwell’s argument that these networks are both empowered and diluted by their size. Activists and those expressing themselves can do with much more ease. But, they cannot rally the attention that the Greensboro lunch counter could because the Facebook system is designed to quiet noise. It would take many friends posting and discussing a particular topic in a variety of mediums to draw any kind of social stir that the Greensboro counters saw.

The Revolution was not tweeted: Tunisians in action

Citing the two-step flow in media we can argue that the internet has given us a power and voice we’ve never had before. But last January, I asked:

We can’t help but keep asking if participating in social media is activism. Does changing a Facebook Status or Twitter profile picture make a difference? Some argue it brings awareness to an issue. But it’s passive activism, it’s enough to get points for “caring” about an issue for a fleeting trend.

stop sopaLet’s revisit this topic in the context of SOPA and PIPA rather than bringing awareness to a cause not tied to a bill. I changed my profile pictures because I link as a link to action and a specific bill. This is an internet related topic that is specifically associated with names, dates and times unlike other ’causes’ that got a lot of buzz last year.

But I’m still not sure. Is there tangible value in changing a profile picture beyond social clout? Does it depend on whether or not the bill passes? If SOPA and PIPA are stopped am I allowed to take any responsibility as a constituent for that? In the posts from last year I talk about action meaning getting up and actually doing something more than swapping a photo or posting a status.

Can someone challenge me or move this conversation forward? What is the value, if any, in changing profile pictures to motivate action?

Calling your senator is a breeze with protestopa.org. Tell your senator you are a constituent and ask them to vote no. I called from http://www.stopthewall.us.

Nina Mehta is a writer and product design leader in Brooklyn, New York. She began her design career in journalism and has been writing online for 20+ years. Nina is from outside Chicago and has since lived and worked in San Francisco, Berlin, London, and Tokyo. Learn about Nina at ninamehta.com.