Geekend: Facebook Can Predict Your Breakups

David Wagner, Managing Editor | 11/4/2013 | 88 comments

David Wagner
I have a startling confession to make -- I’ve made money by betting on when my friends would break up. But I had no idea Facebook would try to turn that into a business. Facebook now has an algorithm that can predict with uncanny accuracy who you are dating and when you will break up.

Facebook uses something they call dispersion to see how closely connected you are with others in your network. With 50 percent accuracy, it can guess your spouse or significant other (and of course, they use their relationship status settings to check the results). And when they get it wrong, they almost always end up picking out sibling or a close friend instead.

Most importantly, when they get it wrong it also means you’re probably breaking up. People with a low “dispersion” rate have a 50 percent more likely chance than a normal couple of breaking up within 60 days.

Dispersion measures the way you are connected throughout the other person’s social network. Traditional social media metrics (often called embeddedness) measure who you comment the most on and who comments most on your posts. This works fine if everyone you know uses Facebook the same way. But your significant other might log on once a week while some dude at work is on all day. With embeddedness, the dude at work looks more important to you, but he really isn’t.

Dispersion instead sees the overlap between you and your friends across your life. Your significant other is far more likely to be connected across a much wider range of your friends, your likes, your activities, etc.

The obvious goal here is for Facebook to make more money by being able to serve better content. With old metrics, they might miss people who are crucial in your life but posting less. If they serve a better news feed, they can serve your needs (and more ads you’ll like) and add revenue.

But I don’t care about their revenue. What I care about it this breakup thing. A few weeks ago you’ll remember I talked about stalking your ex on Facebook. Now, Facebook knows when you are about to go from snuggle buddy to stalker.

They pretty much know that you’re doomed before you do. It is almost like those friends of yours who makes bets behind your back on how quickly you guys are going to break up.

So here’s my proposal Facebook -- share the info. Make it an app. You know those e-dating sites that say they match you on 527 levels of deep compatibility? Forget that. Cut to the chase. Tell me if the guy I hooked up with at the bar last night is the one, Facebook. If I’m going to break up with them right after the holidays, save me the money on the present and tell me now.

Before you scoff at this too much, there’s already a fairly rich research into the break up habits of people on Facebook. If you look at the chart below, you’ll see people break up in very predictable patterns.

Breakups peak before and after certain holidays. For instance, no one wants to be alone on Valentine’s Day so they hang in bad relationships until the beginning of March. On the other hand, some people can’t face making the long trip to meet the parents before a holiday like Christmas so a huge number of breakups happen two weeks before the winter holidays.

So if we know that there are patterns to breakups, and we know certain types of relationships are more likely to stick together, it really isn’t all that strange to imagine that Facebook is going to start being able to pick the exact day and time you are going to break up. Wouldn’t you pay for that information?

How much trouble and heartache would that save? I mean who wants to go through this:

And big data doesn’t have to stop there. Once they’ve started figure out when we break up, Facebook can probably figure out when we’re about to get fired or when we’re about to go eat dinner at a bad restaurant. Rather than just being a place where we post about our lives, Facebook can be the place that tells us how to live our lives. Maybe then it can even start making decisions for us.

Imagine coming home and reading that your own status has been changed to “is now single.” No muss. No fuss. Facebook will unfriend your ex, get him a new apartment, and contract someone on Yelp to pack up their clothes all while you were at work. The only thing left for it to do is contact Amazon to get you a pint of ice cream to drown your sorrows in. Don’t worry, they’ve got hour delivery now.

What do you think? Can a social network really predict your breakup? Do you want it to? Are you the sum of your data? Have you ever made a decision to break up and then waited because of a holiday? Comment below.

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tekedge   Geekend: Facebook Can Predict Your Breakups   11/30/2013 11:28:29 PM
Geekend: Facebook can predict your breakups
@ David. Gee I am nervous when explained so explicitly. I never gave this dimension of social networking much thought. Now I will. Yeah another app right...
Susan Nunziata   Geekend: Facebook Can Predict Your Breakups   11/30/2013 3:23:19 PM
Re: 50 % accuracy, hm?
@taimoor: It's probably more challenging when you know those friends offline as well for a long time. I don't have too many FB friends who are not also friends in the real world, so it's a particular challenge for me!
Taimoor Zubair   Geekend: Facebook Can Predict Your Breakups   11/30/2013 10:06:20 AM
Re: 50 % accuracy, hm?

"It's really tough to figure out how to navigate the ups and downs of friends' relationships on FB. "


@Susan: I agree. At times people may play around with the status just for fun and other people may end up taking it seriously. I can imagine this leading to so many confusions and complications.
Susan Nunziata   Geekend: Facebook Can Predict Your Breakups   11/30/2013 4:57:16 AM
Re: Privacy
@saad: that would be really sad. Once people start using algorithms in place of following their own hearts and minds, we are really doomed.

And, take it a step further. What if FB is able to predict for a married coupld that they will break up because one member of the marriage has too many friends who are ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends. Imagine those conversations??!

Susan Nunziata   Geekend: Facebook Can Predict Your Breakups   11/30/2013 4:51:14 AM
Re: 50 % accuracy, hm?
@technocrat: Haha! no kidding. As if marriage wasn't tough enough already. LOL.
Susan Nunziata   Geekend: Facebook Can Predict Your Breakups   11/30/2013 4:49:43 AM
Re: 50 % accuracy, hm?
@vnewman: Heh heh. My husband refuses to go on FB altogether. He can't imagine why anyone would want it. And yet, he's eager for all the updates I tell him about for our extended family and friends, with whom I keep in touch on FB. When he asks me for more details, I say: "get your own FB page, then you'll know all about it."

so far, that hasn't worked.

Susan Nunziata   Geekend: Facebook Can Predict Your Breakups   11/30/2013 4:44:50 AM
Re: 50 % accuracy, hm?
@Kicheko: I'm with you on that! I have no problem with having people on FB know that I am married. If I were single and dating, I would be pretty cautious about changing that status. I'm also amazed at the married folks on FB who complain about their spouses' behavior, which seems to me to be so disrespectiful to your relationship.

IMHO, if it's something that a person wouldn't say out loud to to their significant other tney shouldn't be posting it on FB.
Susan Nunziata   Geekend: Facebook Can Predict Your Breakups   11/30/2013 4:40:55 AM
Re: 50 % accuracy, hm?
@Taimoor: It is a funny thing when it comes to FB and human relationships. I learned that a married couple with whom I've been friends for years wer ehaving trouble when the husband suddenly changed his FB statius from "married" to "it's complicatd."

Yet when i reached out to these friends directly to find out if they were ok, neither of them wanted to talk about it. So, it was ok for the FB world to know something changed, but the dynamic of true friendship wasn't there when it came to talking to an old friend about how they were doing.

It's really tough to figure out how to navigate the ups and downs of friends' relationships on FB.
Susan Nunziata   Geekend: Facebook Can Predict Your Breakups   11/30/2013 4:36:29 AM
Re: so whats with the April fools day spike?
@kstaron: You are a markeitng genius. I can just see the ads now. "Ladies, you're about to lose him. This is his favorite beer. Buy it tonight and save your relationship." LOL.

The April Fool's thing is strange, but I find the breakup spike two weeks before Christmas to be really strange. Is that purely a financial decision? Or does the stress of the holidays cause more breakups that we've ever realized?
SunitaT   Geekend: Facebook Can Predict Your Breakups   11/25/2013 5:41:21 PM
Re : Geekend: Facebook Can Predict Your Breakups
@ stotheco, that is a strange remark indeed, I must say. If this is how it works or if this is the philosophy of it, then what is all this fuss about privacy? People post it "out there" because they are made sure, or at least they think so, that it can be made private. If they find out later that once it is out there then it is public property, or more precisely Facebook property, who is to blame then?
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