So here’s something kinda creepy – Facebook probably knows who your significant other is, even if you’ve never posted it online before. Yep, I’m freaked out too, but also kind of fascinated. Maybe this shouldn’t be all that surprising. The whole “the internet knows everything about you” rhetoric has been around long enough, but new network analysis developments have made things a little more interesting.
When it comes to friendships of the non-romantic sort, Facebook researchers measure how close two people are by what they call “embededness.” Facebook measures how embedded a friend is by how many mutual friends you share. Generally, the closer people are, the more mutual friends they are likely to have. Makes sense, right?
As it turns out, things are little different between you and your significant other. Instead of embededness, Facebook is attempting to track your closeness by something that researchers call “dispersion.” Dispersion has to do with how many friend networks you and your boyfriend or girlfriend share. Often, people won’t just simply have a huge chunk of friends in common with the person they’re dating, but they’ll share friends from many walks of life. You’ll be friends with one another’s childhood friends, college friends, coworkers, and family members instead having just one peer group in common like many platonic relationships do. As couples start to build a life together, they become part of each other’s networks and sometimes grow close with the people that are important to their lovers.
Researchers also came across something in this study that relationship therapists could benefit from: among unmarried couples, the more dispersed the relationship is on Facebook, the more likely that relationship is to still be around in 60 days. This might have to do with how intertwined more dispersed couples are becoming in one another’s lives. In creating solid bonds with each other’s social networks, maybe they’re putting down deeper roots for their relationship.
Regardless, it’s easy to imagine how Facebook researchers can find out who you’re dating fairly quickly, even if you never once mention it on your timeline. Whenever more news breaks about how much technology knows about our lives, my knee-jerk response is to be horrified, but maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. I guess it’s more productive to focus on what good could come out of all this developing knowledge about human behavior patterns, since there’s no changing the fact that the data is out there whether we like it or not. Love who want, just remember that Mark Zuckerberg knows who you love too! But don’t let it stress you too much — I think he has better things to do than tell all your friends who you’re secretly dating.