How Facebook Changed LGBT Culture, in 3 Charts

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court officially declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right. Nowhere online was support for this decision more evident than Facebook.

That same morning, the social network quickly launched a free, easy-to-use tool that let users put a rainbow filter over their profile pictures. As a result, more than 1 million people changed their profiles in the first few hours, and more than 26 million people have used the tool to date.

At the time, The Atlantic posited that the profile picture filter could be part of one big study that would examine social media’s effect on cultural movements. Four months later, it turns out that The Atlantic was right on the mark.

In honor of National Coming Out Day on October 11 and #SpiritDay on October 15, Facebook recently published research examining the growth of LGBT support on its platform as well as the rates at which users are coming out via social media. Facebook defines “coming out” as updating your profile either to express a same-gender attraction or specify a custom gender (an act supported by another tool that Facebook launched in February 2014).

The company found that more than 6 million Americans have come out on Facebook, with roughly 800,000 of those announcements taking place in the past year. In fact, Facebook reports that three times as many people are coming out on the network each day compared to a year ago.

The most obvious spike in this chart follows the landmark Supreme Court decision—2.5 times more users came out on Facebook that day than on National Coming Out Day the previous year.

The research also reveals that the split of out LGBT users on Facebook varies widely by state. Some trends may not surprise you—New York, for example, appears to have twice as many LGBT users as Alabama. Others, however, stand out, like the fact that Nevada has one of the highest percentages of LGBT users who are publicly out.

Still, profile updates aren’t the only ways Facebook users can show their support for the LGBT community. They can also become fans of pages such as the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, or Equality Now.

Facebook found that roughly 5.7 million Americans are fans of at least one of the 300 most popular LGBT pages. This number has increased by close to 25 percent over the past year, with the largest single increase occurring, again, on June 26.

Much has been made of Facebook’s unchecked power, which usually sparks fear, anger, and criticism from users who do not want a company collecting their personal information. However, Facebook’s report is an example of how smart, educational content can make a difference. Social media has the ability to influence social change, and one of Facebook’s greatest strengths may be using data to show us how.

Image by Kostas Koutsaftikis
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