It has become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity. A quote attributed to Albert Einstein and something he might have actually said if the question was asked today, “How would you feel if a social networking site not only could predict who your closest friends were, but also have a say in the matter?”.
A research group from UC San Diego is claiming to be able to predict with great accuracy, who Facebook users closest friends are, by simply looking at their past site activity. In a controlled study led by researchers at UCSD, a survey group of Facebook users were asked to list their closest friends, the researchers would then try to guess who their closest friends were by looking merely at their Facebook activity. Using a model they developed, which takes into account the number of comments, messages, wall posts, likes, photo tags, etc. someone makes – the researchers claim that they predicted within 84 percent accuracy who were close friends. The study concluded, “The model’s success at discriminating closest friends from not-closest friends validates the use of online behavior data as a proxy measure for tie strength in real world relationships.”
But what I find to be more astonishing is that industry followers are taking this a step further. They claim a “prescribing of interaction” taking place at Facebook, one that may actually influence who you interact with more often on their site and, thus, making you closer “friends.” Some think a virtual or real life friendship or a blend of both may be strengthened between two people…. due to nothing more but “subtleties” on a web page. Benjamin Grosser, whose work has looked at Facebook’s role in our culture, says that the subtleties of its algorithms can shape which friends we interact with and how often we do so. “The question is whether the ways that Facebook prescribes interaction are changing how our friendships develop. This is not to say that the effect is strong enough to actually change who our closest friends are but a reminder that Facebook doesn’t merely capture a portrait of our social lives; it also contributes to what that portrait looks like.”
I am not a user of Facebook so I can’t comment whether I believe it is even possible for a web site to have an influence on who I determine to be my “closest friends” – but if this turned out to be the case, the only conclusion I would reach is that I needed to get out of the house more.