It seems harmless. You log into Facebook, see a trailer for the next season of your favorite TV show and click “Like.” But every time you click that little “Like” button, you sell a piece of your personality to the digital world.
Facebook “Likes” prove the most accurate indicators of your personality and preferences, according to research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The 2013 study gathered data from over 58,000 Facebook users volunteering their Facebook “Likes” and demographics via the myPersonality application.
“Likes” illuminate preferences ranging from basic interests to extremely detailed, personal information. You could be Wiccan or Christian, straight or gay, a cheerful optimist or a debby-downer — the thumb’s up button reveals it all. What you like in your feed even predicts the status of your parents’ relationship.
“Likes” represent a general class of digital records, similar to the way Web search histories and credit card purchases feed third parties information about consumer habits. Even a single “Like” provides incredibly accurate information about your personality. Nearly 95 percent of American and Caucasian American were correctly identified based on their “Likes,” while 93 percent of guys and girls cases were correctly identified, according to the research.
Here’s an example. The study shows that if you’re dealing with divorced or separated parents, you’re more likely to “Like” pages concerning relationships and loyalty. And a gap in “Like” accuracy between males (88 percent) and females (75 percent) suggest males have greater behavioral divides, stressing stronger straight or homosexual orientations. You could be fooling society, but you’re not tricking Facebook.
It’s information you think only your closest friends and family know … or maybe just your cat.
Scrolling through your feed, you might assume your personality is distinguished only through your most obvious “Likes.” The PNAS research indicated only 5 percent of participants liked pages literally associated with their personalities or beliefs. This means liking pages such as “Beyonce” or “Hello Kitty” says more about your sexual orientation and religion than liking “Gay Advocacy” or “Liberal Rights” pages.
Did you like curly fries on Facebook? That means you’re intelligent. What about Shaq? That’s an indication of your straight dude-like qualities. So how is it possible liking pages or photographs with absolutely no relation to your attributes still shows who you are as a person?
It works like this. Thanks to Facebook’s incredible (and sometimes creepy) social manner of sharing, pages and photos that are liked have the ability to digitally hop from one feed to the next. If your friend Albert Einstein creates an “I love Curly Fries” page and shares it, it’s going to cycle through the feeds of a bunch of his smart friends, and then through the feeds of their friends. The chances that Al’s curly fries page gets attention from all the smart kids, resulting in personality prediction. And while eating a fried squiggle isn’t the smartest thing you can do, all the people who liked the page are smart, because they all trace back to that one smart dude.
It seems a far stretch that giving a thumb’s up for a cool photograph or brand of shoe paints a portrait of your personality. But all you have to do is glance at the advertisements scattered throughout your news feed to know that Facebook knows all of your secrets and it’s tracking your every “Like.”
Don’t worry, what could possibly go wrong with Facebook “Likes” predicting your personality? It’s just Facebook, after all …