Did you know that liking Facebook pages about Christianity or Mormonism could tell your bosses that you are a cooperative person?
According to a study released in 2013 published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNSA), the work of Michael Kosinski, David Stillwell, and Thore Graepel revealed that the information you like on Facebook can tell people about your personality as an individual.
The purpose of the study was to test if information about an individual’s lifestyle or personality could be predicted through what they like on social media. Funded by Microsoft Research and the Boeing Corporation, researchers began collecting data of 58,000 volunteers. To begin, researchers looked at the public Facebook likes of all 58,000 volunteers to see what content they positively reacted to. They then analyzed each volunteer likes to see if they were able to identify their personality traits based on two sets of categories. One set of categories focused on the basic information: age, gender, relationship status, and the size of their friend group. The second category set focused on the harder to identify and more personal information: Sexual orientation, ethnicity, political views, personality type, religious beliefs, substance use, whether the volunteer’s parents had remained married until they turned twenty-one, and their satisfaction with life.
Researchers then analyzed what topics and likes those with similar personality traits may have in common and how those things could be used to identify a person’s personality simply by knowing their interests. The authors state in the introduction of their study that, “People may choose not to reveal certain pieces of information about their lives, such as their sexual orientation or age, and yet this information might be predicted in a statistical sense from other aspects of their lives that they do reveal” (Private Traits and Attributes…, Graepel, Kosinski, and Stillwell). Their findings showed not only that the content could identify certain characteristics of an individual, but that people with certain traits often liked the same pages and/or topics.
Isolating a total of sixty-eight likes from each individual, the researchers then created a formula which allowed them to identify how many people shared the same interests and what those interests said about their personality types. The easiest to identify were religious, political, and sexual preferences among the volunteers. However, the researchers were also able to identify a percentage between 65-73% who were identified to be in relationships or were substance users. Their lowest percentage–60%–came from attempting to identify if volunteer’s parents had separated or remained married prior to them turning 21-years-old
At the end of their published study, the authors took the time to identify the pros and cons of their research. Companies, who can gain public access to the similarities between Facebook users who like their page, can begin specific advertising to those individuals. One proof their study is the potential for marketing. For example, if Dove Soap happened to notice that a majority of those who liked or visited their page really enjoyed the band Tegan and Sara, they would then reach out to that band to be a sponsor. Fans of the band would then notice that they were sponsoring Dove Soap and then want to buy Dove Soap because they see someone they enjoy promoting the product. The negatives of their research are more serious. Companies, potential employers, current jobs, and governmental agencies could use public information to access personal information or form opinions about individuals without their knowledge. This could lead to loss of jobs, not being considered qualified for a job, or could even result in government surveillance depending on the content.
The ease of accessing content personalized to an individual is a modern-day pleasure. The whole world and everything in it is only a few clicks away. But even with all the perks of social media, it’s downfalls could potentially lead to the invasion of privacy from government agencies, bosses, or even nosy relatives