What Your Facebook “Likes” Can Reveal About You

I recently came across the work of Stanford psychologist and social data researcher Michal Kosinski, who has developed a method to analyze people in minute detail based on their Facebook activity. He is currently a leading expert in psychometrics, a data-driven sub-branch of psychology.

By now, most people are familiar with the term “big data“, therefore I won’t go on explaining it here. Basically, what Michal uses the aggregate big data generated on Facebook through “Likes”. He then finds correlations and patterns, and uses these to determine personality traits about you based on your “Likes”. What makes this particularly fascinating is that the patterns he has found are remarkably accurate given that 25% of the global population is on Facebook (i.e. 1.8 billion people). Now,  I realize that it’s likely he only crunched a minuscule subset of Facebook’s data given that it is private and the computing power required would be immense, however even a small subset of 1.8 billion can still be massive.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent Vice article about his work:

In 2012, Kosinski proved that on the basis of an average of 68 Facebook “likes” by a user, it was possible to predict their skin color (with 95 percent accuracy), their sexual orientation (88 percent accuracy), and their affiliation with the Democratic or Republican party (85 percent). But it didn’t stop there. Intelligence, religious affiliation, as well as alcohol, cigarette and drug use, could all be determined. From the data, it was even possible to deduce whether someone’s parents were divorced.

Want to give it a try?

Michal has developed this simple free tool that you can use to try it out on your own profile. It uses your Facebook “Page Likes” (not to be confused with “Post Likes”).

Not accurate?

Try updating your Page Likes (at minimum aim for at least 68 in total) by typing in the following URL: https://www.facebook.com/[yourusername]/likes

Now some food for thought:

  • Given that employers have already been “googling” potential new hires for most of this decade, are psychometric assessments using public data next?
  • Even if they are not “officially” allowed, how will we ever know?
  • Is it our responsibility to manage our “Likes” as part of our digital footprint or do we stop “Liking” things altogether thereby creating an inaccurate data profile? What risks does the latter bring?

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