Facebook adds 'flags' for profile pictures, in move widely thought to be part of Mark Zuckerberg's new plan

The founder’s manifesto made clear that Facebook was working to become a central part of civic society and building ‘a global community that works for all of us’

Click to follow
The Independent Tech

Facebook will now let everyone add a flag to their profile picture, in a move thought to have a far wider significance than just letting people change up their photos.

The frames began in 2015 as a way of showing support for a sport team – but has now widened to include nearly 200 different national flags from the smallest to biggest countries.

The change in itself is a reflection of the way that Facebook is increasingly giving people more tools to personalise their pictures as a way of encouraging them to post more about themselves on the site. Changing photos drives engagement and helps collect the data that Facebook uses to get ad revenue.

But it is thought that the change is significant, coming days after Facebook’s boss and founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote a 6,000 open letter that presented the company as the future of how people will engage with the world and with other people. The site is creating “a global community that works for all of us”, he wrote in the letter, which is widely interpreted as an argument against a growing tide of anti-globalisation politics.

In that sense, the flags are probably not intended as a way for users of the social platform to show off about their country or compete with people from other nations. Instead, the feature is “more about fostering a sense of global belonging”, wrote The Verge.

TechCrunch, which first reported the news, agreed that it seemed to sit in a complex place with respect to Mr Zuckerberg’s manifesto. He wrote that the flags could be understood to be pushing the “us versus them” idea that the open letter argued against.

“Today’s push of flags, many for individual countries, seems to simultaneously align with Zuckerberg’s idea of finding your community on Facebook, yet contradicts the view of the world as a unified global community,” wrote Josh Constine, a technology reporter closely aligned with Facebook. “If users are proudly waving their country’s flag all over Facebook, it might make them appear even more foreign to users from elsewhere.”