Facebook Likes are one of the more illustrative aspects of the social network, and individually, it’s probably fair to say we all judge a person based on the cultural things they’ve given the permanent thumbs up to on the social network, right?
But Facebook Likes aren’t just a subjective view of any individual’s personality traits — it turns out, they also accurately predict certain aspects of political, intellectual and social makeup on a large scale. And the more you’ve clicked, the more researchers can theoretically glean about your personality. (Kind of a scary thought, but scary cool, not scary Orwell.)
Facebook Likes were the recent focus of a group of researchers at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, as they looked at 58,000 American Facebook users and their dataset of Facebook Likes.
Taking into account status updates, photos, products, music, restaurants, websites and sports as determined by Facebook likes, researchers were able to accurately predict certain personality traits such as IQ, age, racial identity, political compass and even likelihood of recreational drug use.
The study on Facebook Likes was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, where the study’s authors explain that prior studies on data like search engine queries and credit card purchases have yielded similar results. Michal Kosinski, lead author of the research, described the average study participant — each of whom granted access to the data as well as consenting to testing for the purposes of the study:
“Each person, on average, liked 170 things … Some liked only one thing and there were people who liked thousands of things. We removed those. We looked at people who liked between one and 700 different things.”
Using the data collected, algorithms were able to successfully match the results of the testing with Facebook Likes, creating accurate profiling based on the different data sets.
USAToday quotes psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin Sam Gosling as deeming the Facebook Likes research a “landmark study” that fleshes out “how things are no longer ephemeral.” Gosling elaborates:
“You ‘Like’ something. You leave a comment on somebody’s wall. They are now recorded in a way that machines can calibrate and measure them with great accuracy … Together, they add up to substantially more information from which you can make quite reasonably accurate predictions.”
Authors of the study noted that Facebook Likes most closely correlated with higher levels of intelligence were “‘Thunderstorms,’ The Colbert Report, ‘Science and ‘Curly Fries.’ ” Facebook Likes most often correlated with lower levels of intelligence included “‘Sephora,’ ‘I Love Being A Mom,’ ‘Harley Davidson’ and ‘Lady Antebellum.’ ”
Some argue the data culled by Facebook Likes in the aggregate poses a threat to personal security or even civil liberties, but it’s difficult to see how any such concerns will meaningfully impact the way data is stored and shared by either Facebook users or the social network itself.