The curly fry conundrum: Why social media “likes” say more than you might think

Good TED Talk video where Jennifer Golbeck talks about what is revealed by Facebook likes (giving me the opportunity to use the tag “curly fries” for the first time on the blog):

…[A study] looked at just people’s Facebook likes, so just the things you like on Facebook, and used that to predict all these attributes, along with some other ones. And in their paper they listed the five likes that were most indicative of high intelligence. And among those was liking a page for curly fries. (Laughter) Curly fries are delicious, but liking them does not necessarily mean that you’re smarter than the average person. So how is it that one of the strongest indicators of your intelligence is liking this page when the content is totally irrelevant to the attribute that’s being predicted? And it turns out that we have to look at a whole bunch of underlying theories to see why we’re able to do this. One of them is a sociological theory called homophily, which basically says people are friends with people like them. So if you’re smart, you tend to be friends with smart people, and if you’re young, you tend to be friends with young people, and this is well established for hundreds of years. We also know a lot about how information spreads through networks. It turns out things like viral videos or Facebook likes or other information spreads in exactly the same way that diseases spread through social networks. So this is something we’ve studied for a long time. We have good models of it. And so you can put those things together and start seeing why things like this happen. So if I were to give you a hypothesis, it would be that a smart guy started this page, or maybe one of the first people who liked it would have scored high on that test. And they liked it, and their friends saw it, and by homophily, we know that he probably had smart friends, and so it spread to them, and some of them liked it, and they had smart friends, and so it spread to them, and so it propagated through the network to a host of smart people, so that by the end, the action of liking the curly fries page is indicative of high intelligence, not because of the content, but because the actual action of liking reflects back the common attributes of other people who have done it.

Thanks Benoit and Paul for forwarding the link!

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