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Surprising Science

Facebook: A Window into Human Behavior

By crunching data posted by Facebook’s 845 million users, professional research teams are coming to a better understanding of human behavior through how they behave online. 

What’s the Latest Development?

The Data Team is a research group inside of Facebook tasked with finding patterns in the vast amounts of information voluntarily posted by the 845 million people who use the social network each month. Those vast stores of information, which Facebook uses to target you with specific advertisements, will drive a valuation in the vicinity of $80 billion when the company goes public later this year. Currently, the Data Team is researching whether knowing how your friends react to certain ads influences your own behavior, i.e. if you know your friend clicked on an ad, will you be more likely to do the same? 

What’s the Big Idea?

To what extent does our behavior on Facebook shape how we act in the real world? It may be the case that our distinction between Facebook and the real world is quite thin. According to a Pew Internet and American Life study, 93% of the Facebook friends kept by US users are people they have met in real life, suggesting that the site has created a network that models real-world relationships. “As Facebook becomes a more integral part of people’s communication,” say researchers, “it becomes difficult to disentangle what ‘real-world social behavior’ means independent of Facebook.”

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