How Facebook 'likes' predict race, religion and sexual orientation

It's true: Actions really do speak louder than words, even when you don't want them to.Last month, a former em...

Posted: Apr 10, 2018 12:51 PM
Updated: Apr 10, 2018 12:51 PM

It's true: Actions really do speak louder than words, even when you don't want them to.

Last month, a former employee of data firm Cambridge Analytica went public with allegations that tens of millions of Facebook users' data were captured and (mis)used in an attempt to influence them during the 2016 US presidential election.

Facebook "likes" can be used to accurately predict your personality traits

After analyzing 300 likes, Big Data knows you better than your spouse does

The whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, explained to CNN how an app the company developed could pull data not only from its users' profiles but from their entire friend networks.

"If we got one person to download the app, it would pull, you know, 200, 300 records, and that would scale really quickly," Wylie said.

All of the data, we now know, were harvested without Facebook users' knowledge. For its part, Facebook Inc. admits that it knew about the company's access to the data but alleges that it was misused.

"Facebook granted permission for the app," Wylie said. "They knew what the app was doing. They just didn't necessarily know what it was for."

But it wasn't just the information people willingly volunteered in their profiles that Cambridge Analytica was after. It was also what they "liked" -- such things as music, movies, foods and books. Turns out, it speaks volumes.

Just 'like' that

"Facebook is a really amazing place to give data and not really think about the data you're giving, because you're just sharing it with family and friends, right? But you're actually sharing it with every company that utilizes Facebook," said Timothy Summers, director of innovation, entrepreneurship and engagement at the University of Maryland's College of Information Studies.

These companies, according to a 2013 study by computational psychologist and big data scientist Michal Kosinski and others, found that Facebook likes "can be used to automatically and accurately predict a range of highly sensitive personal attributes."

Kosinski's algorithm was able to predict whether a person was black or white with 95% accuracy, male or female with 93% accuracy, gay or straight with 88% accuracy and Democrat or Republican with 85% accuracy.

With just 10 likes, a computer model fundamentally knows you better than a colleague, according to additional research published by Kosinski in 2015. With 70 likes, it knows you better than a friend or roommate; with 150 likes, better than a family member. And with 300 likes, Big Data knows you better than your spouse.

What I 'like' about you

All of the data scraped from your Facebook profile are useful for understanding who you are "at a micro level," said Summers, who was not involved with Kosinski's research. "I want to understand who John Smith is and what are the decisions that John Smith will make, given the right stimulus and imagery."

Summers said to think of the old way people were targeted as a sort of "town square." Someone would yell a message as loud as they could, hoping as many people as possible would hear him or her. Everyone was receiving the same message.

In this new age of micro-targeting, people are subjected to "whisper campaigns," Summers said. The message everyone sees or hears can be tailored to the precise trigger that will make them click a certain page, buy a particular product or even vote for a political candidate.

Are there some people who are more persuadable than others?

"Absolutely," Summers said, "and that's where psychographics comes in."

Psychographics is defined as "market research or statistics classifying population groups according to psychological variables (such as attitudes, values or fears)."

The way most psychologists profile someone is to figure out how they score on the "Big Five" personality traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism, known as OCEAN.

"With the right imagery and the right content, context and nuance, and with the right social media campaign ... you can get just about anyone to click on just about anything," Summers said.

A subsequent study co-authored by Kosinski, published in 2017, offered examples of ads aimed at different audiences, based on their personalities. Extroverts saw an ad that read "Dance like no one's watching (but they totally are)," while introverts saw an ad that read "Beauty doesn't have to shout."

'Like' it never even happened

"If you're leaving digital breadcrumbs online and living a digital life, as all of us are, you're constantly giving data points," Summers said. "Our smartphones, our computers, our email, the big companies -- Amazon, Google, Facebook -- they're collecting data on us every single step of the way."

Summers encourages everyone to download their Facebook data, which you can easily do by logging in and clicking on Settings, then on General Account Settings. There, you'll be able to gain access to a staggering 70 categories of data.

"Find out who's looking at you, who's psychographically profiling you," Summers said. "Who's trying to figure out and predict your behaviors?"

Only then can you truly understand the cognitive strategies being used to target you -- and how you can outsmart them.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 497790

Reported Deaths: 9917
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34102530
DeSoto31839398
Hinds31837622
Jackson24314377
Rankin21881388
Lee15427234
Madison14525279
Jones13772241
Forrest13412250
Lauderdale11937314
Lowndes10934185
Lamar10470135
Pearl River9431237
Lafayette8454138
Hancock7697126
Washington7365156
Oktibbeha7111129
Monroe6727174
Warren6642176
Pontotoc6609101
Neshoba6606205
Panola6460131
Marshall6386132
Bolivar6266145
Union596094
Pike5784152
Alcorn5633101
Lincoln5417134
George491879
Scott470998
Tippah465381
Prentiss464181
Leflore4627143
Itawamba4596104
Adams4570119
Tate4546109
Copiah445191
Simpson4421116
Wayne438572
Yazoo438586
Covington427394
Marion4216107
Sunflower4215104
Coahoma4115104
Leake407787
Newton380879
Grenada3692108
Stone358464
Tishomingo356391
Attala330289
Jasper328265
Winston313191
Clay306375
Chickasaw296767
Clarke290694
Calhoun277945
Holmes266987
Smith262550
Yalobusha232647
Tallahatchie225251
Walthall217763
Greene215548
Lawrence211140
Perry204755
Amite203954
Webster201645
Noxubee185340
Montgomery179056
Jefferson Davis170642
Carroll167438
Tunica158639
Benton147438
Kemper141241
Choctaw133026
Claiborne131237
Humphreys129038
Franklin119128
Quitman106227
Wilkinson104539
Jefferson94234
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 812694

Reported Deaths: 15142
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1139601904
Mobile721751321
Madison51923685
Shelby37240339
Baldwin37044538
Tuscaloosa34902599
Montgomery33919719
Lee23122240
Calhoun22125469
Morgan20620370
Etowah19739496
Marshall18238298
Houston17288405
St. Clair15897337
Cullman15297290
Limestone15178198
Elmore15038284
Lauderdale14125294
Talladega13692271
DeKalb12554258
Walker11069364
Blount10081174
Autauga9883146
Jackson9776177
Coffee9176188
Dale8856180
Colbert8781200
Tallapoosa7032195
Escambia6725127
Covington6672179
Chilton6580160
Russell624758
Franklin5927105
Chambers5558142
Marion4952126
Dallas4854199
Clarke472681
Pike4716105
Geneva4558126
Winston4461101
Lawrence4252117
Bibb421686
Barbour355374
Marengo333989
Monroe329962
Randolph324763
Butler323994
Pickens313581
Henry310565
Hale308787
Cherokee299457
Fayette290579
Washington250851
Cleburne245958
Crenshaw243375
Clay239767
Macon230662
Lamar215446
Conecuh185351
Coosa177738
Lowndes173161
Wilcox167038
Bullock151744
Perry138040
Sumter131138
Greene125544
Choctaw86627
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A cold front passing through our area overnight will bring into our area some of the coolest temperatures of the season so far. We will see most of the highs this weekend only in the upper 60s to lower 70s. While overnight lows will drop off down into the 40s Saturday night.
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