On Facebook, you may be sharing more than you think

Published: January 17, 2015
Facebook and Google are both investing in research labs to mine their immense stores of social data. STOCK IMAGE.

Facebook and Google are both investing in research labs to mine their immense stores of social data. STOCK IMAGE.

Facebook is no longer just a platform to share your photos and memories — you could also unwittingly be sharing your entire personality.

A startup called Five Labs has made an online tool , based on a University of Pennsylvania study, that looks at the language you use in your Facebook posts in order to determine different aspects of your personality.

It gives you your OCEAN traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, while also allowing you a personality comparison with your Facebook friends. You can find “similar friends” and also compare your OCEAN traits to some public figures’ personalities, including Bill Gates, Mahatma Gandhi and Barack Obama.


Not just your posts, but even your Facebook likes – which are normally public information – can also provide enough information to decipher your personality. A Cambridge University study  found that computers outperformed humans at judging personality based just upon where people have clicked the little “like” button on Facebook.

Stacked up against a self-assessment test, computers outperformed humans overall. However, respondents’ spouses outperformed the bots, but their parents did not and coworkers performed the worst of all.

According to the study, computers have major advantages over humans in judging personality such as the capacity to store a tremendous amount of information, which is difficult for humans to retain and access. Secondly, humans are affected by motivational biases while computers judge the information present using consistent algorithms.

Still, human perceptions have the advantage of being flexible and are able to capture many subconscious cues unavailable to machines. The accuracy of such personality tests also depends on the availability and the amount of the relevant behavioral information. So, compared to a person who does not use Facebook too often, a person with more information on Facebook can have their personality more accurately judged.

Facebook and Google are both investing in research labs to mine their immense stores of social data. Mark Zuckerberg has claimed that “the goal [of the Facebook research lab] is … to understand how everything on Facebook is connected by understanding what the posts that people write mean.”

There is a concern here about consumer privacy and how companies can infer a great deal of information about users, especially with advances in in machine-learning tools. However, human judgments might still be better at describing other traits that require subtle cognition or those that are less evident in digital behavior. Personality assessment based on information publicly available – such as Facebook likes could also pave the way for employers screening candidates based solely on social media profiles.

So the next time you post on Facebook ask yourself how your data portrays you on public networks and also how it might be used.

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Reader Comments (1)

  • Bewildered
    Jan 17, 2015 - 4:29PM

    Major role of the companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, and Microsoft etc. is to help US government create a global database of individuals profiles linked to their accurate identities. These companies are well compensated for this help, else they wouldn’t have been able to afford their huge expenses (staff, hardware, bandwidth etc.) just from some web advertisements.


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