Students at MIT have devised a way to identify people who are gay by analyzing their Facebook profiles. The method works by examining who a person is friends with, and drawing conclusions based on the characteristics of those friends. Based on the principle that birds of a feather flock together, the technique assumes that if a person is friends with a high percentage of people who are themselves identified as gay, that person is guaranteed to be super-gay.
The linked article goes off into a discussion of online privacy in the face of ever improving technology and changing social norms, but once it started using complicated words like “homophily” and “principle” I kind of lost interest. Anyone trying to make a point without first breaking it down into a list of the 10 Most Hilarious Episodes of
The Gummi Bears isn't going to get a lot of traction with me.
No, instead of caring about the actually-interesting privacy issues, my first though upon reading this was one of concern. You see, I haven’t been particularly discriminatory when adding friends on Facebook. As a ruggedly handsome Internet humor-smith, a significant number of people have realized their lives would be meaningless without adding me as a friend. And, perhaps due to childhood memories of loneliness and having to ride the teeter-toter with the school janitor, I haven’t rejected a single friend yet. As a consequence, my Friends list is now inflated with a significant percentage of people I’ve never met at all.
So my worry, given the probable-depraved nature of anyone who would find me amusing, is what would someone running a similar algorithm on me find? Based on the company I supposedly keep, would a researcher conclude that I’m a fan of mustache-rodeos? I had to find out.
So, using the computer knowledge that all white guys with glasses possess, I fired up my laptop, and during a techno laden montage of progress bars and really fast typing, hacked in to an MIT mainframe and stole a copy of the code used by the researchers. After reviewing it, I saw numerous opportunities to expand upon the student’s work, and over the next four minutes made several improvements to the original algorithm. Most notably, I implemented several heuristic generalizations into the code and gave it the ability to pivot on all possible classification criteria, not just homosexuality. Once activated the software would comb my list of friends, their lists of friends and so on, computing a list of attributes that all my accidental acquaintances possessed. If I had a significant number of friends with a given attribute, the algorithm's output would then indicate that I myself share the same attribute.
It was clear that activating such a wide-ranging piece of software would potentially be a violation of Facebook’s terms and conditions, set me up for felony charges and usher in a dystopic world where privacy was nonexistent, and government boots were constantly pressed to our necks. So I had a nice stiff drink first. The program’s output and my accompanying notes are recorded below.
YOU ARE: Straight
Whew. I can’t say I’m that surprised, but I guess Dad will be happy.
YOU ARE: White
Nothing to disagree with here either, although I think for a later version of the software it would be amusing to quantify just how white I am. (Correct Answer: 786.2 Greg Bradys on the Stanford-Brady Complexion Gradient Scale )
YOU ARE: An alcoholic
Well that’s wrong. And no, I’m not just saying it’s wrong because I CAN QUIT ANY TIME (smashes a glass on the wall). Although I like beer, and drink beer, and have good times with beer, we also know we don't have to spend every waking second with each other. The time apart makes our relationship all that much stronger. However it looks like a lot of my friends don't feel the same way. I’m guessing the software observed that many of them have pictures of themselves doing keg hoists or shooter blasters or whiskey felchers or whatever it is the kids do now a days.
YOU ARE: A fan fiction author
So it seems a lot of my friends like losing themselves in their own worlds full of popular, copyrighted characters. Nothing wrong with that I guess, but I don't think it applies to me. Some of you may recall the early months of this column, when I used to write highly sexual tales featuring Lieutenant Worf and Count Chocula, but those were actually sonnets and not fan-fiction, if you look carefully.
YOU ARE: Chinese
This one confused me, because earlier it said I was white. Then I wondered if it thought I was Chinese as in nationality-wise. A review of the data revealed that a big chunk of my friends are Chinese spambots. Surprisingly this subset included two of my ex-girlfriends, which upon further reflection probably explains why they kept selling me all those region-free DVDs.
YOU ARE: A communist
At first I assumed this was caused by those Chinese spambots again, and thought the irony of being tagged a communist by associating with spambots (the armpit of capitalism) was pretty rich. But further review revealed that a sizable number of my friends have been chattering about health care reform, and my apparently staunchly-conservative computer has rather editorialized their views rather harshly. That may be a bug.
YOU ARE: An arsonist
Err. I may be splitting hairs here, but I’ve always considered an arsonist someone who burns things because they like watching them burn. I only burn things because it’s funny. I’m going to give my friends who enjoy flame-based comedy the same benefit of the doubt.
YOU ARE: On an FBI watchlist
I think this is actually pretty standard for anyone who’s friends with Cracked Columnist Dan O’Brien.
YOU ARE: A hermaphrodite
You see? This is what I was worried about. Apparently 43 of my friends are part of some group called the “Chicks With Dicks Alliance.”
YOU ARE: Capable of fellating yourself
Hang on. Nope, not even close. Although I guess congratulations to my statistically significant number of friends who can.
YOU ARE: Interested in knowing what Bert and Ernie are like, off-camera
This is completely true.
YOU ARE: Being stalked by eight people
Evidently eight of my friends are also stalking me, operating in shifts. They’re organized, well equipped and have a particular interest in “ass-shots.” Hey team.
YOU ARE: In terrible danger
The software seems to think that one of my admirers has been reading up on African tribal rituals, and is now convinced that by consuming my blood they will gain my powers. The algorithm is only supposed to pick up on statistically significant groups of people though, so this is probably a bug too.
YOU ARE: They’re in the house. Fly you fool!
Evidently the program has taken up my sense for melodrama, and also my deep passion for plagiarizing Tolkien. These bugs are starting to annoy me. As soon as I get back from investigating that noise in the cellar I’ll take care of them.
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