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How Facebook Likes Predict Personality (And What to Do About It)

April 13, 2023

Your Facebook likes say a lot about you. From your sexuality to your race and politics, liking things on Facebook can expose more of your life to third parties (other users, advertisers, researchers, politicians, etc.) than you may realize. 

That’s not to say you can’t keep liking things on Facebook, though. You can still show your appreciation for posts/videos/ads etc., and maintain your privacy. All you have to do is hide your likes. 

How Your Facebook Likes Predict Personality and Expose You 

That Facebook likes can overexpose you isn’t a new idea. About a decade ago, researchers from Cambridge University analyzed 58,000 Facebook profiles. They found that a person’s Facebook Likes, which are public by default, are highly accurate in predicting personal, sometimes sensitive, details about them.

Simply analyzing a person’s Facebook Likes was 88% accurate in predicting whether a man is gay or straight, 95% accurate in predicting whether a person is Caucasian or African American, and 85% accurate in determining whether someone is a Democrat or a Republican.

The researchers concluded that Facebook Likes “can be used to automatically and accurately estimate a wide range of personal attributes that people would typically assume to be private.”

Most Likes that serve as predictors of other attributes, including whether a person is in a relationship or a substance abuser, aren’t obvious–it’s not as if single people Like pages called “I like being single” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” 

Instead, Likes that have seemingly no connection to certain personality traits are surprisingly linked. The researchers gave a few good examples:

The best predictors of high intelligence include 

  • “Thunderstorms” 
  • “The Colbert Report” 
  • “Science” 
  • “Curly Fries” 

On the other hand, low intelligence was indicated by:

  • “Sephora” 
  • “I Love Being A Mom” 
  • “Harley Davidson” 
  • “Lady Antebellum.” 

Good predictors of male homosexuality included:

  • “No H8 Campaign” 
  • “Mac Cosmetics” 
  • “Wicked The Musical.” 

Conversely, strong predictors of male heterosexuality included:

  • “Wu-Tang Clan” 
  • “Shaq” 
  • “Being Confused After Waking Up From Naps.” 
Facebook likes predict personality

Facebook Likes: They’re Everywhere

7.4 million websites have Facebook Like buttons (not to mention the buttons all over Facebook itself), and that number is growing. Users can Like almost anything: photos, comments, musicians, brands, celebrities, and pages. 

Social buttons like Facebook’s Like button aren’t just for sharing: they’re trackers. Unless you’re using an anti-tracker tool to block them, they know which sites you visit and what you do on a website, even if you never click them. The mere fact that they’re present on a page means they’re tracking you.

The study mentioned above illustrates how the little things you do online can be used to create a highly detailed picture of who you are. 

You may not think that a Like here and there says anything about you, but they all add up–especially with Facebook’s Graph Search that displays all your Likes with a single search…and those searches can be incriminating, embarrassing, or even dangerous (“Men in Iran who are interested in other men,” for example). 

Plus, the long list of people with whom Facebook shares data includes advertisers, app developers, law enforcement, and other companies.

Even if you’re trying to be discreet by leaving personal information out of your profile, others can figure it out through your public Likes. If researchers with a limited budget can learn this much about a person through their Facebook Likes, imagine how big companies, advertisers, or governments could use–or misuse–that data. 

Are you the type of person who takes risks? Maybe an insurance company will hike up your rates. Are you politically conservative? Maybe a potential employer will pass on hiring you because of it. Are you someone who loves coffee? Maybe online retailers will charge you more for it than someone else (Google filed a patent for price discrimination based on online social data).

How to Hide Your Likes On Facebook

Facebook lets you hide your likes without unliking whatever it is you liked. To do this, you will need to set your likes to private. Here’s how:

Step 1. Log into Facebook and navigate to your profile. 

Step 2. Click on “More” and “Likes.”

Step 3. Click on the three-dot icon and then “Edit the Privacy of Your Likes.” 

Step 4. From the list of categories (“Movies,” “Television,” “Music,” etc.), select what you want to keep private by clicking on the world icon on the right. 

Step 5. Choose who you want to be able to see your likes (“Public,” “Friends,” “Only Me,” and “Custom.” Click “Save.” 

It’s Not Just Facebook 

Set your Facebook Likes to private, but remember: it’s not just your Facebook activity that can give third parties a glimpse into your life. 

Every time you interact online and offline, you leave a trail behind you. Whether it’s your social media activity, loyalty card use, vehicle registration, or something else, data brokers constantly collect your information. These companies compile your personal information into a single profile which they then sell to anyone who wants access to it, from advertisers and insurance companies to acquaintances and cybercriminals. Read our ultimate guide on data brokers to learn more about this shadowy industry.

There’s no way for you to know if someone bought access to your data broker profile. However, that doesn’t mean you are powerless against the industry that makes a living from your data. 

Most data brokers let people opt-out from their databases. As long as you remove your personal information from these sources—and do so continuously—you can reduce your exposure. Follow our opt-out guides to delete yourself from popular data brokers. Or let us do it for you.

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