The hidden danger of Facebook

By Kacie Svoboda



A traitor to the stereotypical Millennial obsession, I am not an avid poster on Facebook. I started late for my age group, refraining until junior year of high school. I managed to mostly avoid posting angsty song lyrics in my teens and have recently only put up about 10 posts in the last five years.

It seems one of the more consistent Facebook practices I maintain is using my account to sign into apps and quizzes. A practice, that up until last week, I thought was fairly harmless, as long as they agreed not to post that my spirit animal is an eagle to my Facebook wall.

However, according to an article in Vice Magazine, these quizzes and apps could be more dangerous than every narcissistic or embarrassing Facebook post combined.

Psychometric expert Michal Kosinski, a researcher at Cambridge University, has used these quiz results and access to Facebook profiles to learn highly specific information about individuals.

Psychometrics, a data-driven sub-branch of psychology, focuses on measuring the psychological and personality traits that govern how individuals are likely to behave.

After years of refining models, Kosinski is said to be able to evaluate a person better than the average coworker on the basis of just 10 Facebook likes, better than their friends with 70, better than their parents with 150 and better than their partner with 300.

In 2012, Kosinski could predict a Facebook user’s skin color and sexual orientation from just 68 likes, with 95 percent and 88 percent accuracy respectively. For example, men who liked the cosmetics brand MAC are slightly more likely to be gay and male likers of the Wu-Tang Clan are highly likely to be heterosexual.

But the lack of privacy is not the scariest ramification of Kosinski’s work. His models can also work in reverse in the form of targeted ads and news. A personalized message can reach nearly any cross-section of the population, from white Republicans to anxious mothers.

To me, this galvanizes my belief that Facebook shouldn’t be anyone’s main source of news or global information. And I’m not just saying that because I work for a newspaper.

We all need to be responsible not only for the quality of the news we receive but also whether it is only a tailored segment of the truth.