Facebook Knows Your Loved Ones Better Than You Do



THINK YOU COULD beat a computer at assessing the personalities of your nearest and dearest? Don’t be so sure, because you probably couldn’t. In fact, it’s been proven that you couldn’t — a recent study found that, armed with enough information about someone’s Facebook “likes,” a computer program can outperform just about any human in determining another person’s personality traits, regardless of the closeness between the two.

To come to this slightly-chilling conclusion, researchers from the University of Cambridge and Stanford University gathered information on the Facebook likes of six million people through a program over a span of four years. The subjects then filled out questionnaires to determine their personality types based on the five biggies: neuroticism, openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and extraversion. Some of the participants’ friends were also quizzed to elaborate on the personality traits of their buddies.

The computer then went to work with its algorithm, casually making all people out to be horrible judges of character and making us rethink all our interpersonal relationships. With only ten “likes” to judge a person by, the computer program could make more accurate assumptions about a person than a coworker could.

With 70 likes, the computer could beat out roommates, and with 150 likes, a family member. To know a person’s personality traits better than significant others — including spouses — the computer only needed to assess 300 likes. Weird.

Examples of the sort of judgments that the computer program made included labeling someone as outgoing if their likes included “Snooki” and “beer bong”. Totally. “The Bible” leads to a label of cooperative, “Wikipedia” likers were put on the  more reserved side of the spectrum, and if you like “CHANEL,” you’re apparently competitive. Well, that makes sense. Those purses don’t buy themselves.

The only challenge the algorithm faced had to do with recognizing neuroticism. For all the crazy information we share about ourselves on social media, I guess our fanatic natures don’t come through in our likes too often. (Status updates, however, yes.)

This study is disconcerting for a variety of reasons, one of the most worrisome being that gaining access to that algorithm would allow advertisers to really hit us where it hurts. And then, of course, there’s getting to sleep tonight knowing that a piece of machinery and a computer program made out of binary numbers knows your boyfriend better than you do. But wait! There’s even more reason to stay up late at night and eye your MacBook Pro with suspicion.

The researchers who conducted the study also discovered that the computer program could predict future behaviors of subjects — better than the subjects could themselves. The participants were asked questions like “How many drinks do you think you’ll have this week?” and the computer always made more accurate predictions about the subjects’ behaviors. Guys, it sees RIGHT THROUGH US. If anyone else feels like we’re living in the days leading up to a Skynet takeover à la The Terminator, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

BRB, I’m off to heavily assess my Facebook likes.

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