Facebook Can Deduce Romantic Connections

Facebook: is there anything it can’t snoop?

If anyone needs additional proof that Facebook knows way, way to much about its members, just consider the findings of a study by researchers at Cornell University and Facebook, who demonstrated that the social network can figure out who you’re dating -- even if you don’t reveal that you’re in a relationship by making it “Facebook official.”

Interestingly the method used for the study, titled “Romantic Partnerships and the Dispersion of Social Ties: A Network Analysis of Relationship Status on Facebook,” relies on determining the degree of “dispersion” in an extended social network, meaning “the extent to which two people’s mutual friends are not themselves well-connected.” While most close relationships are likely to be embedded in a network of relationships of similar strength, according to the researchers romantic relationships differ in that a couple’s various mutual friends are much less likely to know each other independently of the couple.

The researchers determined this by studying the social networks of 1.3 million Facebook users who listed a partner or spouse. They then examined the shape of the networks to see if any structures were predictive of a romantic relationship. As one might expect, they found that in a network diagram, the different social circles an individual moves in tend to display themselves as separate clusters -- e.g. college friends, work buddies, and so on -- with the individual as the main point of overlap. In this context, a second individual who also happens to know people in all these disparate, otherwise unconnected social circles is very likely to be in a romantic relationship with the first individual.

The explanation offered by the researchers is straightforward enough, as your romantic partner is likely to meet people from all the different parts of your life, even if these circles don’t overlap: “[C]onsider, for example, a husband who knows several of his wife’s co-workers, family members, and former classmates, even though these people belong to different foci and do not know each other.” However, the researchers note that the same degree of dispersion may also be observed with a family member or one of your closest childhood friends, since these would have a similar experience of being introduced to multiple social circles over time.

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