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Facebook's Gaydar: is it accurate?

Several news sources have started reporting on a 2007 research project by a group of MIT students who found they could accurately predict Facebook users' sexual preferences based on the people they were friends with. The project, referred to as "Gaydar," sampled data from 1,600 men (only 33 of whom were out as gay on Facebook) to create an algorithm that supposedly predicts whether a user is gay or not. However, the research methodology behind this unpublished study seems a bit dubious to me.

The initial test of Gaydar correctly predicted that 10 of the researchers' friends - who weren't "out" on Facebook - were gay. That's a pretty decent success rate, but a tiny, tiny sample size. Only 33 gay men out 1600 total can't possibly be reflective of the entire population. According to Wikipedia, 4% of voters in the last US election self-identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Assuming that those numbers are pretty conservative, only 2% of the people in Gaydar's initial sample were gay. I'm not convinced it's really time to start panicking that you could be inadvertently outed based on your Facebook friend list.

Tags: facebook, gaydar, MIT, news, research, sexuality, social networking, SocialNetworking