You log onto Facebook (who are we kidding, you’ve never even logged off). Check your notifications, scroll through your Newsfeed. Your friend listened to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on Spotify, you ‘like’ that. A friend shares a link about the latest celebrity scandal, you ‘like’ that. Another friend shares a photo from the NYU Memes page, you laugh, and, naturally, you ‘like’ that too. Little do you know, your ‘likes’ project a very powerful image of you.
According to a study from the University of Cambridge, Facebook ‘likes’ can be used to gather information about your sexual orientation, politics, religion, intelligence and emotional stability. We tend to use this ‘like’ button indiscriminately, unaware of what the effects may be. Summarily, if you ‘like’ certain things, they become indicators of the type of person you are. For example, according to the study, indicators of male homosexuality were pages such as the “No H8 Campaign” and “Wicked: The Musical”, whereas male heterosexuality was indicated by user likes of “Wu Tang Clan” or “Shaq”. Supposedly we can also predict whether a user is introverted or extroverted, their intelligence level and their political alignments according to their liked pages.
A website that has tried to utilize this is www.youarewhatyoulike.com. All you do is login with your Facebook, and the site generates an output based off of your likes.
While I do agree that the Likes they’ve listed are most indicative of my profile, I don’t agree with how they’ve categorized me. Sure I’m liberal, and sometimes consider myself creative and artistic, and for the most part I am very organized and like to have my shit all together. Verdicts still out on whether I actually am friendly. The last two I’m having trouble over. While I’d like to think I’m calm and relaxed, in reality I’m a bit high strung and anxious. Also, I’m very competitive. So there’s goes that “agreeableness”. I’m calling a farse on you http://www.youarewhatyoulike.com.
But for the most part this can prove to be accurate. Lately I’ve been inspired to run a Ragnar Relay (if you don’t know what it is, check it out), and clicked the ‘like’ button on the Ragnar Relay Facebook page to get updates. Now, in my Newsfeed, nested in between status updates and photos of friends, are sponsored ads for the “Warrior Dash”, “Iron Man”, “Diva Run”, and even one promoting Joint Relief care (thanks for looking out, Facebook) – all things that are, in fact, appealing to me. However, Facebook often has the tendency to take these ‘likes’ completely out of context. For example, I’m a huge fan of NBC’s Law & Order: SVU. When I first made my Facebook profile I listed Law & Order: SVU, Law & Order, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, as my “Favorite TV Shows” (right next to Sex and the City, and 30 Rock, mind you). The repercussions of this have been a range of ads for schools: ITT Tech School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers School of Criminal Justice; ads for the search term “Law & Order” clearly taken out of context: Indian Law & Order Commission, Christian Commission on Faith & Order. I do love the show Law and Order, but I cannot say I have ever, nor will I ever in the future, be interested in the field of law or criminal justice. While I do appreciate the suggestions, Facebook, I’ll decline. In fact, taking ‘likes’ out of context and making assumptions based on them is annoying, weird, and intrusive.
The fact that, as individuals, we are now scrutinized and judged upon what pages we click on, is disheartening. Our personal identities have thus been commandeered by the simplistic digital decisions we make and the click of a like button. The study by the University of Cambridge lays out a table of predictive ‘likes’ and what they indicate. Apparently, the pages “I Love Being A Mom” and “Lady Antebellum” are indicators of a low IQ, whereas “Morgan Freeman’s Voice”, “The Godfather”, and “Curly Fries” are indicators of a high IQ. First of all, there are countless highly intelligent, career driven, and smart women who love being moms. Take Marissa Mayer for instance: she loves being a mom, and as a CEO I would assume she has a high IQ. This assumption is both sexist, and probably just as irrelevant as the relationship of liking “Curly Fries” to your IQ is. Additionally, our ‘likes’ can also reveal if we are an introvert with few friends, or an extrovert with many friends. Liking “Jennifer Lopez”, “Michael Jordan” and “Biology” means you are extroverted with many friends. On the other hand, pages like “In n Out Burger”, “The Dark Knight” and “Videogames” indicate introvert with few friends. To me, these all seem entirely irrelevant. What if you enjoy going to In N Out and watching The Dark Knight with a big group of your friends? These pages certainly cannot be predictors of the type of people we are or how we see ourselves.
What Facebook and corresponding commercial companies that use this data are doing is stereotyping the users. Apply this to offline life. How would you like it if you just met someone and told them you once read the book, Fifty Shades of Grey, and naturally they assume you are into S&M, and probably into the Twilight series? Is that a fair assumption that should be made? It’s ludicrous right? People shouldn’t do that, so why should Facebook and other data mining companies? Your Facebook profile, and other online personal profiles for that matter, should be the information that you post and want others to see. It should reflect you solely because, well, you put that information out there. Your profiles should not be a wealth of information for companies to use and make out of context assumptions about you. The user should be able to control their online presence and not have it be constructed by some impersonal algorithm that assumes that IF a user ‘likes’ X, THEN they must be Y and act accordingly.
We’re much more complex individuals than that. We have to give ourselves some credit.