In what’s either a chilling demonstration of the predictive power of data mining or a totally obvious conclusion you didn’t have to pillage the social-media accounts of thousands of people to find out, Pitchfork reports on a 2015 study from Stanford University and Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Center that analyzed users’ Facebook “likes” to see if researchers could predict their behavior based on how they used the social network. This same method was later adopted by the instantly infamous consulting firm Cambridge Analytica in its efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, but with one key difference—Cambridge University asked people if it could access their Facebook profile, and Cambridge Analytica didn’t.
The non-shady Cambridge obtained people’s profile information through a Facebook app called myPersonality, which asked users to fill out a 100-question quiz to determine their “openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism,” as The New York Times puts it. Respondents also gave researchers permission to access their Facebook profiles, granting the teams access to the online “likes” of more than 70,000 people.
They then used the twin data sets of Facebook likes and personality quiz results to create an algorithm that could be used to map someone’s personality traits based on what music they like—or to determine if someone could be persuaded to vote for Donald Trump, as Cambridge Analytica did when it built its own algorithm based on the Psychometrics Center’s research. (The firm initially requested to use the Center’s algorithm, but was denied.) That effort was led by Dr. Aleksandr Kogan, a Cambridge professor Cambridge Analytica hired to oversee its project based on his knowledge of the earlier study, and was supervised by none other than Steve Bannon, who was involved in the project in its early stages (i.e., around the time when all that Facebook data was being harvested without users’ knowledge). Thus, a seemingly innocuous Facebook quiz was inadvertently used to help swing the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald Trump.
As for the findings of the Psychometrics Center’s original study, researchers found that people who like Tom Waits and Bjork tend to be the most open minded, while those who like Cheryl Cole and Jason Aldean are the least open minded. Fans of party rap from the likes of Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame are the most extroverted, while fans of Marilyn Manson, Rammstein, and Judas Priest were the “least agreeable.” Marilyn Manson fans were also found to be among the most neurotic, along with those who “liked” The Smiths on Facebook. And heaven knows they’re miserable now.