Over the last few days we’ve watched as Facebook has gone red in support of marriage equality during this week’s Supreme Court’s testimony. It’s inspiring to see the velocity of a movement happen in real-time, as people step forward all around you in mutual support of a cause.
Watching revolutions and large-scale movements translate onto social media over the last 5 or so years, it has more often been Twitter as the platform of note. The hashtags form, the news snippets are sent out from the field and retweeted by the people (and retweeted and retweeted and retweeted). People show their support in words marked with communal hashtags. Together and by volume and speed, these messages are unified as trending hashtags before a global audience. It’s inspiring to see the power of the collective.
I’m a sucker for a good data visualization or infographic because I’m a sucker for a good story. For me, my favorite part of Twitter is the data visualizations of these movements. Watching the velocity of a hashtag explode and quickly move beyond the boundary of one country throughout the world. Capturing the scope of activity and unity of people everywhere coming together in support. Plucking the specific tweets and photos that influenced so many out of the volumes of mentions and constructing a story of a movement move. (This man’s Storify of the Arab Spring exemplifies just that: http://storify.com/antderosa/2011-timeline-of-protest-revolution-and-uprising)
Data visualizations do more than capture the moment in a way that can be seen from a bird’s eye view beyond your immediate network, but they can act as archives and keepers of stories and history. And not just a single story, but the many narratives and perspectives of what happened and why it mattered and what it influenced.
“When you have different versions of history, you are creating an atmosphere of freedom – it’s more like an element of democracy. And this is not characteristic of most Arab countries. You are not expected or allowed to have more than one version of history,” said Muhammad Faour, senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Centre to Al Jazeera last year.
He continued, “It’s not just a matter of current records serving as a playbook for future activists and civic groups. It’s also a matter of empowering a population to record – on their own terms – what transpired on their streets, something being documented in some measure now in Syria.”
It’s appropriate that Color would be the main focus of the gay rights movement, not a phrase or hashtag. LGBT has always been associated with color. Phrases can be polluted with stigmas (like focusing on “marriage equality” instead of “gay rights.”) But how do we best record this moment in time? We can record the volume and location of tweets in data visualizations. We can watch it ourself with free measuring tools. The Library of Congress is collecting all tweets (170 billion and counting) that some poor analyst will always have the opportunity to sort through. But Facebook is trickier because of data restrictions and privacy. Images and image variations are trickier to collect, pool and sort than words and hashtags. Even though Facebook has just adopted the hasthag, I suspect it’s real value during these times of revolution will be visual. Visuals are just more powerful on Facebook than words. I don’t think this will be the last time we share an image in support of a movement on Facebook.
I don’t want the collected moment of this week to be lost. There was an instance the other day when my entire Facebook homefeed was red, every avatar. It was inspiring. But now I want to see more, I want to see it from the bird’s eye, I want to watch our support grow. I want to remember how our support grew.
Do you have a favorite data visualization? Share it! Or a favorite tool to capture and analyze image volume?