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In “The Diffusion of Support in an Online Social Movement,” Bogdan State, a Stanford Ph. candidate, and Lada Adamic, a data scientist at Facebook, analyzed the factors that predicted support for marriage equality on Facebook back in March 2013.They looked at what factors contributed to a person changing their profile photo to the red equals sign, but the implication of their research is much larger: At stake is our understanding of whether groups of citizens can organize online—and how that collective activity affects larger social movements.Over 10 weeks, there were three murders, “52 serious beatings, 250 arrests, and 13 black churches burned to the ground.” When Mc Adam found an archive of 1,086 Freedom Summer volunteer application forms, including lists of volunteers' most trusted friends, he had a unique opportunity to test the factors associated with costly, risky social change.

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Next, they predicted the likelihood of someone changing their profile to an equality image, depending on how many friends they had seen make the change.

State and Adamic found that while someone’s likelihood to participate varied based on several factors—a person’s political affiliations, religion, and age, for example—the likelihood to change one’s profile image was greater with more exposures to changes by friends.

According to State and Adamic, this likelihood increased “only for the first six exposures.” After the sixth exposure, the relationship “becomes virtually flat.” But the surprising thing is that profile-image changes don’t seem to move across networks the way, say, a viral cat video might.

State and Adamic found a profound difference between how most information spreads on Facebook and the adoption of the marriage equality profile images.

While users are quick to share funny pictures and text, the influence of a typical meme on individuals doesn't build over time.

But with the marriage-equality profile images in March 2013, users apparently needed “social proof”—they needed to see that others also supported marriage equality—before joining in.

And might people be more likely to get involved if their friends also participate?

That's the question asked by Stanford sociologist Doug Mc Adam in his research on Freedom Summer, a 1964 civil-rights action that placed over 700 college students in black families’ homes in Mississippi to register black voters.

First, he argued that social-media solidarity has an unknown effect toward political change, perhaps even siphoning energy away from more effective action.

Secondly, Morozov downplayed the cost and risk of that participation.

But in March 2013, when millions of Facebook users changed their profile, Facebook’s researchers saw it as a chance to evaluate how participation spreads.

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