5 big things big data just revealed about Facebook users

facebook under a magnifying glassA study from Wolfram Alpha uses big data research methods to analyze Facebook users’ information – and while none of the results are shocking, many illustrate where Facebook information hews close to real-life behavior, and where the social network fails as a representation of society.

But we had to ask Stephen Wolfram, the creator of Wolfram Alpha and the Mathematica software used in Wolfram Alpha’s Facebook analysis, which of his findings he found most significant. 

“To me it’s that it seems one can do accurate demographics just using data from Facebook.  We see evidence of this in the agreement with Census data.” Wolfram zeroed in on how much potential the analysis has: “I’m excited about the natural language processing and topic analysis; I think there’s a lot that can be done along those lines.”

Everyone’s social network looks different

The picture to the right shows a collection of anonymous users’ social networks graphed out. As you can see, they come in unique configurations, though there is a correlation between age and the number of different networks you have. Younger people, Wolfram explains, generally have a more limited number of social ties because they have less opportunities to belong to varied groups.

wa facebook chart

Surprise: Male and female Facebook chatter differs

Sometimes, the way things work on Facebook is the same way they work in real life. And it’s not the only the examples mentioned in the article – for instance, Wolfram analyzes the aggregated text in Facebook profiles to see how often different genders use certain keywords. The results conform to traditional gender roles, with men mentioning things like “video games” and “sports” more frequently, and women more likely to talk about fashion and relationships.

fb men versus women

How old is the average Facebook user? A lot younger than the average American

Some of the information clearly says more about Facebook users than society at large, however the average age of Facebook users is substantially lower than the average age in the U.S., since more young people use the site. Stacked against the U.S. Census, the age distribution on Facebook is extremely skewed toward younger people, giving a solid example of how you need to take the particulars of Facebook into context when analyzing its data (otherwise analysts would argue that the U.S. population was far more youthful than it actually is).

What’s also interesting is how the ages of your friends vary depending on how old you are. The younger you are, the more homogenous your network s – most of them are in your age range. The older uses are, however, the more across the board the ages of their contacts are. This makes sense: When those of us under 30 joined Facebook, it was targeting college kids, so our networks were more or less our peers. Those who joined after have a larger range of friends, age-wise.

Screen Shot 2013-04-26 at 2.01.58 PM

 Not every country is as Facebook-obsessed as the U.S. 

And looking at the amount of friends users have according to where they are in the world produces similarly skewed results, since people in countries like Russia and China have other primary social networks, so Facebook is less commonly used there. This means it appears that people in countries with other primary social networks appear less sociable, when in reality they’re just doing their digital socializing elsewhere.

The age people start listing themselves as “married” on Facebook corresponds with real life 

Some of the data mostly fits with social trends, but vagaries pop up due to silly idiosyncrasies on Facebook. For instance, the number of people who go from “Single” to “Married” rises as Facebook users age, which fits with the average ages people pair off in real life. But laid out on a map, it seems a disproportionate number of very young users are married – a spike that occurs because tween and teen users think it’s funny to be Facebook married to their friends. Screen Shot 2013-04-26 at 12.50.40 PM

Wolfram Alpha lets any Facebook user input their data, and gives a free Facebook analytics report to anyone who signs up – and they anonymize the information to compare it to others. If you want to contribute, just sign up on their website – but remember that your data will be carefully studied, and even though it’s anonymous, other eyes will scrutinize your preferences and behavior.

And if you want to see how your other social networks measure up, there’s no specific analytical tools through Wolfram Alpha set up to cover Twitter or Instagram, though you can use a more general social media analytics tool if you want. And Wolfram isn’t ruling out making other analytics programs in the future, since he told us “We’re hoping in future to extend our personal analytics system to cover as many social networks as possible.”

Gaming

Box-office buster: Spider-Man’ on PS4 tops ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ with big debut

Insomniac Games' new PlayStation 4 exclusive Spider-Man managed to set records for the fastest-selling exclusive on the system, and it even outperformed the recent Spider-Man: Homecoming film.
Social Media

How to send money on Facebook

In case you weren't already aware, you can now use Facebook Messenger to send or request money, which will allow you to skirt the fees oft-associated with services like Venmo. Here's how to use it.
Smart Home

Alexa can now tell you the odds of the next big football game

Alexa can now answer questions about your favorite NFL teams and players, such as what team is favored to win the upcoming game or what player has racked up the most distance over the course of their career.
Social Media

Facebook is paying cash rewards if you find vulnerabilities in third-party apps

As part of efforts to put the Cambridge Analytica scandal and related issues behind it, Facebook said this week it's expanding its bug bounty program to include third-party apps and websites that could potentially misuse its data.
Social Media

Facebook expands fact-checking net to try to catch doctored photos and videos

Facebook is now fact-checking images and video along with articles, using third-party organizations. New A.I. helps flag potential fakes for human review, but user flags and comments still help recognize what content might not be accurate.
Social Media

New to Snapchat? Follow our guide and go from newbie to pro

Whether you're a Snapchat addict or a newbie, our detailed Snapchat guide will help you become a pro in no time. Find out how to get started, spice up your snaps, chat, send money, and carry out a host of other useful actions.
Smart Home

Restaurants may soon have chefs who know all about you before you walk in the door

At Seattle’s Addo, chef Eric Rivera gives pop-up-style restaurants a permanent home, and he leverages everything from Instagram to a ticketing service to bring in customers.
Social Media

How to run a free background check

There are plenty of legitimate reasons for carrying out a background check, and not all of them are creepy. Here are several methods that allow you to run a thorough background check on someone online, whether you need to vet a potential…
Social Media

Twitter makes it easier to find and watch live broadcasts

Twitter is making further efforts to promote livestreams and broadcasts on its service. Rolling out globally, live video broadcasts from accounts that you follow will now appear at the top of your timeline.
Photography

Instagram’s shopping stickers for businesses see wide rollout

As the Stories format continues to grow, Instagram is allowing users to shop the items inside a Stories photo or video. Instagram recently expanded stickers that let people shop inside a Story by tapping on the sticker.
Social Media

A lot less clutter! Twitter relaunches purely chronological timeline

If you still miss the reverse-chronological timeline that Twitter ditched two years ago and you're fed up with all of the extra algorithmic tweets appearing in your feed, there's now a way to return it to how it used to be.
Computing

Facebook appears set on crafting custom silicon for augmented reality devices

Facebook's latest job postings are seeking engineers and developers for custom augmented reality chipsets, and seem to support speculation that the company is looking to produce AR glasses.
Social Media

How to turn off Snapchat’s location-based Snap Map

Thanks to an opt-in feature added last year, Snapchat may be sharing your location with friends whenever you open it. Here, we'll walk you through how to turn off said feature off and regain some peace of mind.
Smart Home

Is Amazon tweaking its search algorithms with a new A.I.-driven shopping site?

Amazon is testing a new shopping site, Amazon Scout, which combines a visual aesthetic with customers' ability to like and dislike products, collecting more data on users' habits and preferences.