What you 'like' on Facebook can be revealing - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

What you 'like' on Facebook can be revealing

Posted: Updated:
LONDON -

Clicking those friendly blue "like" buttons strewn across the Web may be doing more than marking you as a fan of Coca-Cola or Lady Gaga.

It could out you as gay.

It might reveal how you vote.

It might even suggest that you're an unmarried introvert with a high IQ and a weakness for nicotine.

That's the conclusion of a study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers reported analyzing the likes of more than 58,000 American Facebook users to make guesses about their personalities and behavior, and even whether they drank, smoked, or did drugs.

Cambridge University researcher David Stillwell, one of the study's authors, said the results may come as a surprise.

"Your likes may be saying more about you than you realize," he said.

Facebook launched its like button in 2009, and the small thumbs-up symbol has since become ubiquitous on the social network and common across the rest of the Web as well. Facebook said last year that roughly 2.7 billion new likes pour out onto the Internet every day - endorsing everything from pop stars to soda pop. That means an ever-expanding pool of data available to marketers, managers, and just about anyone else interested in users' inner lives, especially those who aren't careful about their privacy settings.

Stillwell and his colleagues scooped up a bucketful of that data in the way that many advertisers do - through apps. Millions of Facebook users have surveyed their own personal traits using applications including a program called myPersonality. Stillwell, as owner of the app, has received revenue from it, but declined to say how much.

His study zeroed in on the 58,466 U.S. test takers who had also volunteered access to their likes.

When researchers crunched the "like" data and compared their results to answers given in the personality test, patterns emerged in nearly every direction. Since the study involved people who volunteered access to their data, it's unclear if the trends would apply to all Facebook users.

The study found that Facebook likes were linked to sexual orientation, gender, age, ethnicity, IQ, religion, politics and cigarette, drug, or alcohol use. The likes also mapped to relationship status, number of Facebook friends, as well as half a dozen different personality traits.

Some likes were more revealing than others. Researchers could correctly distinguish between users who identified themselves as black or white 95 percent of the time. That success rate dropped to a still impressive 88 percent when trying to guess whether a male user was homosexual, and to 85 percent when telling Democrats from Republicans. Identifying drug users was far trickier - researchers got that right only 65 percent of the time, a result scientists generally describe as poor. Predicting whether a user was respectively a child of divorce was even dicier. With a 60 percent success rate, researchers were doing just slightly better than random guesses.

The linkages ranged from the self-evident to the surreal.

Men who liked TV song-and-dance sensation "Glee" were more likely to be gay. Men who liked professional wrestling were more likely to be straight. Drinking game aficionados were generally more outgoing than, say, fans of fantasy novelist Terry Pratchett. People who preferred pop diva Jennifer Lopez usually gathered more Facebook friends than those who favored the heavy metal sound of Iron Maiden.

Among the more poignant insights was the apparent preoccupation of children of divorce with relationship issues. For example, those who expressed support for statements such as "Never Apologize For What You Feel It's Like Saying Sorry For Being Real" or "I'm The Type Of Girl Who Can Be So Hurt But Still Look At You & Smile" were slightly more likely to have seen their parents split before their 21st birthday.

Some of the patterns were difficult to understand: The link between curly fries and high IQ scores was particularly baffling.

Jennifer Golbeck, a University of Maryland computer scientist who wasn't involved in the study but has done similar work, endorsed its methodology, calling it smart and straightforward and describing its results as "awesome."

But she warned of what the work showed about privacy on Facebook.

"You may not want people to know your sexual orientation or may not want people to know about your drug use," she said. "Even if you think you're keeping your information private, we can learn a lot about you."

Facebook said the study fell in line with years of research and was not particularly surprising.

"The prediction of personal attributes based on publicly accessible information, such as ZIP codes, choice of profession, or even preferred music, has been explored in the past," Facebook's Frederic Wolens said in a written statement.

Wolens said that Facebook users could change the privacy settings on their likes to put them beyond the reach of researchers, advertisers or nearly anyone else. But he declined to say how many users did so.

For the unknown number of users whose preferences are public, Stillwell had this advice: Look before you like.

The like button is "quite a seductive thing," he said. "It's all around the Web, it's all around Facebook. And it's so easy."

By RAPHAEL SATTER Associated Press

  • Viral StoriesMore>>

  • Cow herd kills German woman hiker in Austria

    Cow herd kills German woman hiker in Austria

    Tuesday, July 29 2014 12:24 PM EDT2014-07-29 16:24:40 GMT
    VIENNA (AP) -- Police say a herd of cows attacked and killed a German woman hiking through their fenced-in pasture after apparently being riled by the sight of her leashed dog. They said Tuesday the 45-year old victim was rushed by about 20 cows and their calves. Attempts by an emergency crew to revive her were unsuccessful. The attack occurred Monday on a mountain pasture in Austria's Tyrol province. The woman's name was not released, in accordance with Austrian confidentiality rules. © 201...
    VIENNA (AP) -- Police say a herd of cows attacked and killed a German woman hiking through their fenced-in pasture after apparently being riled by the sight of her leashed dog. They said Tuesday the 45-year old victim was rushed by about 20 cows and their calves. Attempts by an emergency crew to revive her were unsuccessful. The attack occurred Monday on a mountain pasture in Austria's Tyrol province. The woman's name was not released, in accordance with Austrian confidentiality rules. © 201...
  • New app helps teens calm anxiety

    New app helps teens calm anxiety

    Monday, July 28 2014 11:46 AM EDT2014-07-28 15:46:49 GMT
    Anxiety disorders affect one in eight teens. There are medications and therapies that can help alleviate symptoms, and now there’s even an app that can help. The MindShift app aims to teach young adults how to combat everyday anxiety, panic, conflict and worry. Teens can input their symptoms and the app will create a plan to help reduce stress. Created by two non-profit organizations, Anxiety BC and BC Mental Health and Addiction Services, the Mindshift app gives users the ability to ...
    Anxiety disorders affect one in eight teens. There are medications and therapies that can help alleviate symptoms, and now there’s even an app that can help. The MindShift app aims to teach young adults how to combat everyday anxiety, panic, conflict and worry. Teens can input their symptoms and the app will create a plan to help reduce stress. Created by two non-profit organizations, Anxiety BC and BC Mental Health and Addiction Services, the Mindshift app gives users the ability to ...
  • Toddler crashes Jeep, runs home to watch cartoons

    Toddler crashes Jeep, runs home to watch cartoons

    Monday, July 28 2014 9:07 AM EDT2014-07-28 13:07:54 GMT
    MYRTLE CREEK, Ore. (AP) -- Police say a toddler crashed a Jeep into an Oregon home, then ran back to his home to watch cartoons. Authorities say the 3-year-old boy who was wearing only a diaper climbed into the Jeep Tuesday evening and knocked it out of gear. Witnesses say it rolled down the street, through an intersection and into the house, causing minor damage. KPTV reports (http://bit.ly/1rhWlK6 ) an officer found the boy on a couch watching TV as if nothing had happened. He said his par...
    MYRTLE CREEK, Ore. (AP) -- Police say a toddler crashed a Jeep into an Oregon home, then ran back to his home to watch cartoons. Authorities say the 3-year-old boy who was wearing only a diaper climbed into the Jeep Tuesday evening and knocked it out of gear. Witnesses say it rolled down the street, through an intersection and into the house, causing minor damage. KPTV reports (http://bit.ly/1rhWlK6 ) an officer found the boy on a couch watching TV as if nothing had happened. He said his par...
Powered by WorldNow

WTTG FOX 5 & myfoxdc
5151 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20016
Main Number: (202) 244-5151
Newsroom: (202) 895-3000
fox5tips@wttg.com

Didn't find what you were looking for?
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Fox Television Stations, Inc. and Worldnow. All Rights Reserved.
Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Ad Choices