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Facebook Likes can paint a very intimate picture of who we are

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‘It’s much more difficult to monitor your appearances and opinions in years of your Facebook history.’

A Stanford professor says your Facebook activity can reveal intimate details about your life, including your sexuality, political views, drug use—even whether your parents are divorced. 

But Michal Kosinski, a organizational behavior professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, says he’s not getting the information from what people post in status updates, but rather from their Likes.  

“You don’t know [your Facebook friends] very well, especially when compared with how much a computer can learn about them. That’s a striking thing,” he said

Predicting whether or not a person’s parents were divorced through their Facebook Likes was one of the research results that most surprised Kosinski. “Actually, when I saw those results, I started doubting my methods and reran the analyses a few times,” he explained. “I couldn’t believe that what you like on Facebook could be affected by your parents’ divorce, which could have happened many years earlier—we’re talking here about people who might be 30 or 40 years old.”

You can find out what Kosinski’s research reveals about you on applymagicsauce.com, although your Facebook profile has to be public for the site to work. 

Kosinski also notes that, although social media is known for portraying a glossy, perfected view of our lives, it’s actually much more difficult to control how we appear online than it is IRL. 

“It’s rather easy for people to misrepresent themselves in, say, a half-hour-long interview or on a first date,” he said. “It’s much more difficult to monitor your appearances and opinions in years of your Facebook history.” 

H/T Stanford Business | Illustration by Max Fleishman

Kate Conger

Kate Conger

Kate Conger is a politics and cybersecurity journalist who currently writes for Gizmodo. Her work has previously appeared in BuzzFeed, Digital Trends, Real Clear Politics, San Francisco Examiner, and elsewhere. Together with Dell Cameron, she won the Society of Professional Journalists' award for Best Scoop in 2017 for a report on the leak of data about 200 million American voters.