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What your surname says about your race

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Facebook released its diversity report---the breakdown is about the same as the population overall---but the more interesting finding may be what your surname says about your race.

Facebook released its diversity report---the breakdown is about the same as the population overall---but the more interesting finding may be what your surname says about your race.

Facebook modeled its diversity report on U.S. Census data and its categories for race. For instance, if your surname is Smith there's a 73.35 percent chance that the person is white. There's a 22.22 percent probability that it's a black person. The breakdown for a surname like Williams is almost even between black and white people.

The social networking giant notes:

This data set allows us to predict what a person's race is based solely on his or her surname. While these predictions will be often be wrong, in aggregate they will be correct. For example, suppose you select 10,000 people with the name Smith from the U.S. population at random. The data above suggest that 7,335 of them will be White, 2,222 will be Black and so on. Certain names will be more predictive of a certain race, while others will predict a wide array of ethnic backgrounds.

For instance, a name like Yoder, Krueger and Mueller is almost always attached to a white person. Washington, Jefferson and Booker are often African American. Barajas is almost always Hispanic. And a name like Ali or Singh often represents two or more races.

To hone its results, Facebook has also begun analyzing first names of its users. The company said:

Since completing this initial work, we have started using the first names of users to increase the precision of our predictions. While in this post we have only looked at the diversity of the population as a whole, we hope to use predictions of race and ethnicity for individuals, along with their friend connections, to understand how these populations of users are connected to each other. We are working to understand how diversity of interpersonal relationships is changing over time as more users join the site and find their friends.

The Facebook post is worth a read. The site is quite the data playground.

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Larry Dignan

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan is editor-in-chief of SmartPlanet and ZDNet. He is also editorial director of TechRepublic. Previously, he was an editor at eWeek, Baseline and CNET News. He has written for WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, New York Times and Financial Planning. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Delaware. He is based in New York but resides in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure