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Facebook: the truth behind your profile

Facebook: the truth behind your profile

Facebook; one billion of us use it and a lot of us are pretty damn addicted to it – 58% logging in on a daily basis. Each day more than 300 million pictures are uploaded and 3.2 billion likes and comments are made. It all seems so lovely and sociable, doesn’t it? But behind our posts, comments and likes hide some pretty dark and fascinating truths.

A survey commissioned by Pencourage – an anonymous diary-like social media website - has revealed that women constantly lie and exaggerate on Facebook. The survey, which was of 2000 women found that the biggest porkies were mostly pretending to be out on the town when they were in fact home alone, embellishments about an exotic holiday or lying about a job. And why? Well motivations include worrying that their lives seem boring, being jealous of their friends’ oh-so-exciting lives and wanting to impress friends and acquaintances.

One third of women admitted to having lied on social media at some stage; 1 in 4 exaggerate between one and three times a month while a very naughty 1 in 10 admit to lying once a week. (If this is you then you need to check out this super-sad app, Couch Cachet. Embarrassed you into changing? Hope so!) ¼ acknowledged overstating their alcohol consumption (why!?) while 1 in 5 lie about their relationship status. How do they get away with that one?

Psychologists have said that as people attempt to feel more connected online they are left ‘paradoxically’ more isolated. Intriguing. While the survey also revealed that the more they attempted to project a perfect life, the less perfect they felt: “We work very hard presenting ourselves to the world online, pretending and attempting to be happy all the time which is exhausting and ultimately unfulfilling,” said Dr Michael Sinclair, a leading British consultant psychologist. “Omitting the less desirable imperfections of our lives from the conversations with our 'friends' online leads to less opportunity to feel empathised with, resulting in a greater sense of disconnection from others.”

These revelations come in the same week as results from an experiment on 58,000 Facebook users conducted by researchers at Cambridge University’s Psychometric Centre to find out how much your ‘likes’ actually say about you; your personality, relationship status, race and sexuality.

The team, who have joined forces with Microsoft, analysed more than 9 million Facebook likes and have discovered that sensitive and accurate personal characteristics can be gleamed. Facebook likes were fed into algorithms (or systems) and matched with separate personality tests. The algorithms were 88% accurate determining male sexuality, 95% accurate distinguishing African America from white America and 85% accurate determining Republican from Democrat. Christians and Muslims were accurately pinpointed in 82% of cases while relationship status and substance abuse were predicted with an accuracy of between 65-73%.

They discovered strong links between high intelligence and liking curly fries, thunderstorms, Mozart and Morgan Freeman’s voice (!); between liking the Dark Knight and having fewer friends than the average; they ascertained that if you like Terry Pratchett you are most likely shy, while if you like your iPod you are probably dissatisfied with life (Feeling judged?).

Obviously some likes are very telling; for instance if you like Obama you are probably a Democrat. But the experiment shows the ability to glean characteristics from seemingly unrelated preferences. And researchers have warned that the digital profiles we are building up could well be threatening our privacy. They also stressed that the results had implications beyond social media to all digital records; from browser histories to search queries.

"I appreciate automated book recommendations, or Facebook selecting the most relevant stories for my newsfeed. However, I can imagine situations in which the same data and technology is used to predict political views or sexual orientation, posing threats to freedom or even life," said Michael Kosinski, internet entrepreneur and lead researcher on the project.

"Sharing individual likes or pages might not seem hugely intrusive, but it allows individuals to be categorised and behaviour predicted in areas that are far more personal and sensitive than people realise” said Nick Pickles, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch.

"Yet again, it is clear the lack of transparency about how users' data is being used will lead to entirely justified fears about our data being exploited for commercial gain."

As you can see from Pickles’s comments, the study will no doubt reopen the debate about privacy in the digital age. However, Kosinski believes that if the findings aren’t abused, they are certainly more positive than negative.

"Facebook likes are public by default but it is not that Facebook is forcing you to make them public; you have a choice to change your privacy settings... I would say the benefits outweigh the risks. HR recruitment might benefit from this a lot. It’s a great commercial prospect, as long as it is used ethically,” he said.

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