The votes have been tallied and the results are in.
If you like Kenny Chesney and Atlas Shrugged, you’re more likely to vote for the GOP ticket next Tuesday. If you’re a fan of Maya Angelou, Adele, and Catcher in the Rye, then you will almost certainly pull the lever for Democrats.
Who says so? Facebook, that’s who.
Yesterday, Facebook data scientists revealed the results of their latest experiment, which compared people’s political preferences to their cultural ones. It’s a fascinating snapshot, but one with darker implications as to how big data can be used to predict human behavior.
First, Facebook collected data from everyone who indicated a preference for a Democratic or Republican candidate for the House, Senate, or governor by liking campaign pages. Researchers correlated that data to which authors, books, musicians, and TV shows these people also liked. They anonymized the data and then culled the top results in each category.
In the charts below, the items on the left are those disproportionately liked by Democrats; those on the right are preferred by Republicans. The names in the middle are liked more or less equally by both sides. The larger the name, the more Likes it received.
The results are pretty much what you might expect, but there are a few surprises.
It turns out the Fab Four are still more popular with the longhairs than with the crew-cuts more than 50 years after their debut. Democrats are also big fans of Bob Marley, aging rockers, and soul singers.
The Republican side is heavily dominated by country artists (and Nickelback — insert your own joke here). Splitting the difference are metal/hair bands; it appears that Metallica, AC/DC, and Aerosmith are the compromise candidates.
Unlike the symmetrical butterfly-shaped music graph, the chart for authors leans heavily to the left. The most popular author among Republicans is Dr. Ben Carson, better known as a surgeon and Tea Party darling but also author of One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future.
William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Hunter Thompson, Steven King and even Dr. Seuss are all more popular with Democrats, though none lean so far left as the late Maya Angelou.
Democrats are from the Shire; Republicans are from Narnia. The Lord of the Rings books are far more popular among donkeys than elephants; while the Narnia books do not show up in Facebook’s top results, C.S. Lewis clocks in as right-leaning in the Authors category.
Religious books heavily dominate the Republican side of the graph, though strangely the Bible is not listed. The Dems’ list is littered with selections from the standard high school syllabus — The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, The Color Purple, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Smack-dab in the middle: Catching Fire, the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy. We suspect a strong vote for Jennifer Lawrence here.
If it waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be a Republican: Duck Dynasty rules the roost among conservative couch potatoes. If you’re watching a political show on Comedy Central or MSNBC, you are almost certainly a Dem.
Otherwise, TV shows split very much down the middle. See? We really can come together as a nation.
Big data, big problems
But this data analysis can be just as easily applied in reverse, which is where things get more interesting. Let’s say you did not express any political preferences whatsoever on Facebook, but you liked George Strait, Ben Carson, and Duck Dynasty. Anyone with access to that data — which is to say, Facebook and anyone it chooses to share that data with — can predict with a fairly high degree of accuracy whom you’re likely to vote for.
Predicting your preferences, habits, and interests before you actually express them is a big part of what big data is all about. It is, arguably, the reason Facebook introduced Likes in the first place. So if you like Michael Jackson, The Hobbit, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, you are a perfect candidate to receive ads for candidates favored by Barack Obama.
This kind of Facebook data correlation isn’t new. In March 2013, researchers at the University of Cambridge published a study of 58,000 Facebook users who agreed to share their Likes with the scientists and fill out questionnaires about themselves.
Based entirely on what users said they liked, the researchers were able to predict with startling accuracy an individual’s race, religion, political leanings, and sexual orientation. And that’s only the start.
It turns out that fans of the band Slayer are more likely to smoke cigarettes, while people who listen to Mozart while eating curly fries are probably smarter than average. And if you’re a man who likes the TV show Glee, you are probably gay.
This type of information is not only useful for political campaigns and advertisers, but it’s also data that insurance companies, colleges, potential employers, or religious organizations might like to have.
If nothing else, the Facebook experiment confirms that you are what you Like. Whether that information may one day be used to make decisions about you, however, is an open question.
Facebook declined to comment for this story.
Questions, complaints, kudos? Email Dan Tynan at ModFamily1@yahoo.com.