Computer Program Can "Out" Gay Facebook Users

By Melissa Lafsky | September 22, 2009 2:21 pm

awesomest picture everSeveral MIT students have created quite a project for their class on “ethics and law on the electronic frontier” [ed note: Does no one take Modern British Poetry in college anymore?]. According to the Boston Globe:

Using data from the social network Facebook, they made a striking discovery: just by looking at a person’s online friends, they could predict whether the person was gay. They did this with a software program that looked at the gender and sexuality of a person’s friends and, using statistical analysis, made a prediction. The two students had no way of checking all of their predictions, but based on their own knowledge outside the Facebook world, their computer program appeared quite accurate for men, they said.

Even their professor, a computer scientist, was amazed. The project, which was done in 2007 and dubbed “gaydar” by the class, has yet to be published in a scientific journal. The data plugged into the program consisted of the friend links of 1,544 men who said they were straight, 21 who said they were bisexual, and 33 who said they were gay. According to the Globe:

Gay men had proportionally more gay friends than straight men, giving the computer program a way to infer a person’s sexuality based on their friends.

Other similar programs have been created to ferret out info like political affiliations. Granted, less germane perhaps than How these programs are created is the question, Why would we want them to be?

Related Content:
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Discoblog: Stole a Piece of the Internets? Prepare to Be Arrested.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
  • Michael

    I am on no social networking sites at all. This sort of thing just encourages me to continue to abstain. It will be only a short* time until the government or some corporation or political or religious organization uses a similar program for questionable motives. Yet another example of unforseen consequences for technology…and rather disturbing.

    *No doubt these programs already exist and are being used.

  • Art

    There is no reason to be truthful with your public info. Anyone who knows you already knows everything you want them to. I choose not to post where I am, what I’m doing, or any other relevant information on mine.

  • Amy

    Ha! The next thing we’ll hear is how my facebook profile determines my religion. I mean, get real.

    Although, I would say our personalities, interests, and lifestyle determine (to some extent) who we hang out with, I’d say it’s not remotely possible to guess (erm, I mean predict), our qualities based on who are friends are.

    The biggest argument against this is the simple one – we are NOT defined based on our friends. If the results of this program could actually give accurate results, then that’s what it comes down to. For example, I hang out with a lot of Christians, but does that mean I’m Christian?? Similarly, I hang out with a balance of gay and straight friends, does that make me bi??

    Now, don’t get me wrong, it would make coming out easier. No longer is the question “are you gay or straight”, it’s now, “what does the computer think you are?” I mean, I’m a computer programmer, so I love technology being used for USEFUL advancement, but I think this only sets us back a few decades. Even ignoring the big brother effect, it trivializes individual characteristics and makes them the result of an equation. Doesn’t the world have enough drama without the “my computer says you’re gay” to add to the mix.

  • berangarim

    respect burning climate lapse alone power

  • Lyndon Munlin

    awesome thing. thank you for the useful thoughts

  • george carmelo

    Well facebook is just one of the social media sites. The fleet of gays around the world would’nt worry about that. And guess what? there;s a hudred more social media sites brewing. Who knows, it can get a better niche in the market or even eat up facebook alive!

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