A Closer Look at Facebook Friends

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.