Recent “research” by two MIT statistics students proffers that their analytics program can tell if a man is gay by scanning his Facebook friends – even if you don’t say so on your profile, and even if your profile is set to “private.”
The study apparently cannot identify lesbians and bisexuals in the same way.
First, the pair looked at 1,500 Facebookers who identified their sexual orientation on their profiles. Their scientific analysis shows – shocker – that men who are out on Facebook have significantly more gay male friends than straight men. Duh.
Next, they ran the program on 957 profiles that did not specifically reveal the users’ sexual orientation.
“When they first did it, it was absolutely striking – we said, ‘Oh my God – you can actually put some computation behind that,’ ” Hal Abelson, a MIT computer science professor, told the Boston Globe.
“That pulls the rug out from a whole policy and technology perspective that the point is to give you control over your information – because you don’t have control over your information.”
Even at first blush, we at Project Q see two major problems with this study. The most glaring is that it supports outdated notions that being out — or even being gay — is a bad thing. Oh no, watch out! Run and hide your sexual orientation by deleting your gay friends on Facebook! The implication is insulting.
The other problem is that it’s easy to avoid the issue in the first place. While many people don’t understand or fully utilize the privacy settings on Facebook, it is possible to set your list of friends to be seen by “Only Friends” or even by “No one.”
Sort of makes it easy for those who want to remain closeted on Facebook to do so, fancy academic study or not.