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Facebook 'likes' reveal religious, political, even sexual orientation

Posting in Energy

Your sister launches a company, so you like its Facebook page. You decide to see what your company's competitors are up to, so you like their Facebook pages. You are interested in the news of a particular country, so you like the Facebook page of a foreign newspaper.

Well, all this seemingly innocuous "liking" activity on Facebook can reveal to other people your political and religious views, your sexual orientation, whether or not you've been divorced and even if you use drugs, according to a study released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"People who share the 'Likes' do not realize that they are sharing very private issues as well," psychologist Michal Kosinski of the U.K.'s Cambridge University, who led the study, told the Wall Street Journal. "The predictions based on 'Likes' are very fine-tuned and very much on the personal level."

The study of 58,000 Facebook users asked them to fill out demographic profiles, behavioral questionnaires and psychological tests. It then used software to compare those to their Facebook likes. The program tried to see whether the pattern of likes could predict the personality traits that the users had revealed about themselves.

The Journal reports, "While far from perfect, the record of Facebook 'Likes' was in many ways as accurate as a personality test, researchers said.

For instance, researchers could tell Democrats and Republicans apart in 85% of the cases; black and white people apart in 95% of the cases; and homosexual and heterosexual men apart in 88% of the cases.

The factors that could be so revealing aren't necessarily obvious. The Journal reports:

The researchers found, for example, that "Likes" for Austin, Texas; "Big Momma" movies; and the statement "Relationships Should Be Between Two People Not the Whole Universe" were among a set of 10 choices that, combined, predicted drug use. Meanwhile, "Likes" for swimming, chocolate-chip cookie-dough ice cream and "Sliding On Floors with Your Socks On" were part of a pattern predicting that a person didn't use drugs.

They are so obscure, in fact, that it's nearly impossible to figure out what correlates with what, or at least I found it nearly impossible. The Journal has a quiz testing your Facebook like/personality predicting skills. I got two out of 14 right, for a score of 14% ... which leads me to believe that you really need the software to figure out what Facebook likes say about personality.

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via: The Wall Street Journal

photo: Wikimedia

— By on March 12, 2013, 8:05 PM PST

Laura Shin

Features Editor

Laura Shin has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, and is currently a contributor at Forbes. Previously, she worked at Newsweek, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and LearnVest. She holds degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure