Red “equal” sign showing up on social media explained

Red equal sign

Red equal sign

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Have you noticed that Facebook and Twitter users are changing their profile pictures to an image of a red equal sign?

The images are in response to the Supreme Court beginning their hearings on gay marriage Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

The Human Rights Campaign has been promoting  the image to mobilize supporters of same-sex marriage online.

The HRC is a group that advocates equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. The logo is their symbol for equality.

The image was first posted at 1 p.m. ET on Monday and since then has “snowballed,” said Fred Saiz, vice president of communication for the gay-rights organization.

While one post by the campaign that used the image was shared 43,000 times, a number of people have saved the image as their own at the HRC’s urging and have replaced their profile picture with the red equal sign.

“It has caught us off guard, to be honest with you,” Saiz said. “It has taken off like wild fire.”

For an hour Tuesday morning, the Human Rights Campaign website crashed, according to Saiz, because of the traffic they were getting off the image.

One of the top trending terms on Facebook on Tuesday was “equality,” according to data from the social networking website. On the day that the Supreme Court heard arguments over Proposition 8, a law that prohibited same-sex marriage in California, use of the term spiked more than 5,000 percent.

This is high, considering the fact that “equality” is a term used every day.

According to Facebook, celebrities like Ricky Martin, Felicity Huffman and George Takei, as well as politicians like Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, changed their Facebook profile pictures to the red image.

Takei, the famed Star Trek actor and prominent gay rights activist, has a massive Facebook following and changed his Facebook profile image to the red logo.

A post from him this morning asking people to adopt the logo has over 64,000 likes and more than 31,000 shares.

Another post overlaying the internet meme “Grumpy Cat” on top of the red logo has quickly gone viral with more than 60,000 likes and 17,000 shares within the first half an hour of posting.

Saiz, from the Human Rights Campaign, called the reaction “unprecedented.”

“You always hope that these things will capture the imagination of those that see it,” he said. “I think what you can’t predict and plan for how individuals with a bigger reach than your own are going to make your reach exponential in nature.”

The nine Supreme Court justices heard arguments Tuesday on the legality of a California ballot initiative that limits marriage to opposite-sex couples.

On Wednesday, the court will consider the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which limits the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples.

Rulings in both cases are expected by the end of June.

CNN contributed to this report.

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