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Facebook Releases User Diversity Data

Facebook: "We are the World" - or at least the U.S.

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What with Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and other holidays falling so close together, December is perhaps a month during which questions about diversity come up more than usual.  Facebook, for its part, wants the world to know that its user base is appropriately multicolored, and the social network’s released statistics to that effect.

Data scientists Lars Backstrom, Jonathan Chang, Cameron Marlow, and Itamar Rosenn recently got together to analyze users’ ethnic backgrounds.  Late yesterday, they explained in a note, "Comparing people’s surnames on Facebook with data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, we are able to estimate the racial breakdown of Facebook users over the history of the site."

It turns out that the racial makeup of Facebook’s user base is pretty close to that of the U.S. population.  The two groups are growing more similar all the time, too, even if whites and Asians/Pacific Islanders are still overrepresented on Facebook.

This may or may not come as a huge surprise; considering that Facebook has around 350 million users, it’d be hard to imagine that all of them were middleclass white guys (the U.S. only has 308 million people living in it).

Nonetheless, the Facebook Data Team’s findings confirm that the social network is popular with all sorts of individuals.  And aside from whatever warm, fuzzy feelings this fact generates, it may help also help Facebook attract a wider range of advertisers.

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Facebook Releases User Diversity Data
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  • http://www.simplyusmusic.com Roe

    Going by surnames alone is a pretty crappy way to estimate the racial break down. How do you do this with blacks, whose names in many cases are the same last names of the historical owners of plantations from which their ancestors were freed? Or Asians, who are often adopted very young by white families and given European names?

    There are people named Jackson who are white, people named Rosario who are peninsular Spanish (not Latino), and people named Johnson who are Asian. This must surely skew the data.

    Here’s an idea. Why not just ask people when they sign up to disclose their race? Is it that big of a deal? I think we need to stop pretending race doesn’t exist in America and simply embrace it. At the very least, it will help us form more accurate (if not pointless) statistics.

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