Motivational Speaker Jim Rohn said that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”, but does this adage apply to online activity? Am I the average of my eight-hundred-some facebook friends?
Over the past few weeks I’ve been examining my facebook friends more closely than ever before. Sound a little creepy? Well, you’re not wrong. With the help and guidance of Meg Schwenzfeier I was able to download a huge amount of data about my facebook friends. This data included a lot of basic information like names, gender, ages and hometowns, but I was particularly interested in their profile pictures. Specifically I’m trying to spot trends related to the equal sign profile picture, which surfaced on March 26th 2013 thanks to a gay-rights advocacy group called the Human Rights Campaign.
In the process of examining those friends who adopted the profile picture, I’ve learned a lot about my group of facebook friends as a whole. At first, I was surprised at how many of the profile-picture adopters were female. But after looking at the clusters of friends in my network, from my friends from the all-girls camp I attended as a kid to the hundred-some girls in my sorority, I realized that my entire sample had a decidedly feminine bias, with a whopping 540 female friends and only 275 male friends.
However, the female-bias among my facebook friends is nothing compared to the age bias. Although facebook data (https://www.facebook.com/notes/facebook-data-science/showing-support-for-marriage-equality-on-facebook/10151430548593859_) suggests that the demographic most likely to change their profile picture was 30-somethings, the other stand-out was college towns. In fact, the county with the greatest rate of equal sign profile pictures was Ann Arbor, Michigan with a rate of 6.2%. So it’s not surprising that my facebook friends’ adoption rate stood at a little over the national average at 5.65%.
So am I the average of my facebook friends? As someone who adopted the equal sign profile picture, am I the average of that subset? On a superficial level, the data points to yes. My facebook friends are an overwhelmingly female, college-aged and liberal echo chamber. However, as I keep working with the data, I hope to find more nuances of which factors made my facebook friends more or less likely to adopt the profile picture.