Recently, I read an article about a study in which 60,000 Facebook profiles were analyzed for trends linking “likes” and other profile information to demographic information. The results showed that sexual orientation, political affiliation, and religion could be predicted with 88% accuracy based on the users’ “likes.” Gender could be predicted correctly 93% of the time, and determining African American or Caucasian males was accurate 95% of the time! This makes me wonder how much online identities say about a person, even if their name is withheld.
My Facebook behavior often involves scrolling through my News Feed and checking for interesting news about friends. Sometimes, if someone I know has “liked” something, I will click the “like” button, too– it’s simple to do and literally takes no more effort than a click. But on some level, that action is putting me in a certain category. In associating myself with a certain brand of tv show or experience on Facebook, I become the “type of person who likes that thing.” Like any self-respecting angst-ridden college student, I resist the idea of being labeled and of those labels defining who I am.
Looking through my list of “likes” on Facebook (something I’ve never actually done), I found I like 54 things. In looking at the list, I wonder what conclusions a stranger would draw about me, and how much of my personality I have left in and how much I have left out.
My “liked” books are: The Book Thief, The Portable Dorothy Parker, The Gospel of John, Ender’s Game, Catcher in the Rye, Harry Potter, The Fault in Our Stars, and Fahrenheit 451. A pretty good list, I’ll admit, and certainly indicative of some of my favorite books and authors. However, a lot of these books were “liked” back when I was in high school and early college. I love these books, but they represent a slice of my reading life, with an emphasis on fiction written for young adults. There is nothing here to indicate my reading about politics, rhetoric and writing, or trashy romance novels. At the same time, I don’t use Facebook for academic networking and I don’t want the world to know every time I read about the archduke and his mistress (I’m mostly joking about the romance novel thing….mostly.)
Another example of the inadeqauacy of “likes”: Under activities, I have listed “writing.” It is true: I spend more waking hours writing than I do on almost anything else. But I also love to cook, hike, spend time with friends, travel, go to coffee shops, and a million other things. I have not cultivated a long list of activities on facebook because the things I like to do mostly seem ordinary and I don’t see the point in making them a badge on my page. I do know, however, that no list of activities I have haphazardly clicked into existence could really sum up who I am.
As for the movies I have “liked,” most of them are classic films (think: 12 Angry Men and Casablanca) that I have seen once and enjoyed. But they are not the movies I watch again and again. That being said, the list of movies probably does put me in a certain demographic in terms of education level.
It’s interesting that while my demographic info might be gleaned from my “likes,” other parts of me are not visible. I am an educated, 23-year-old Catholic employed woman who enjoys intellectual endeavors. My Facebook page would show that much to a stranger. But it would likely not capture my sense of humor, my approaches to problem-solving, or my unhealthy relationship with reality tv.
In addition, my Facebook shows that I am married, but my husband and I never interact using the site. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have a thriving relationship in “real life.” My Facebook friends list does not include my parents, but I talk to them more than 95% of my Facebook friends. Facebook is representative of a small slice of my life, but it doesn’t capture what is most ridiculous or funny or important about me.
I guess my likes on Facebook will help marketers to know me better, but not necessarily anyone else…