Friday November 08, 2013 | 08:00 AM
Posted by Rob Gould

A graphical representation of one person’s network neighborhood on Facebook.

If you thought those creepy, personally tailored Facebook ads were terrifying, get a load of this. A new research study — jointly written by Lars Backstrom of Facebook and Jon Kleinberg of Cornell University, “Romantic Partnerships and the Dispersion of Social Ties: A Network Analysis of Relationship Status on Facebook,” found that the shape of a person’s social network can identify one’s spouse or romantic partner — and even if a relationship is headed to splitsville.

Is there anything that Facebook doesn't know? Now this too? I don't even want to think about what's next. I feel like they can see me naked.

Released on October 28, the original purpose of the study was to determine how Facebook could perfect the accuracy of its content ads. In the process of analyzing a random set of 1.3 million users (all of whom were either married or in a relationship), the researchers realized that they could pick out a person’s spouse with a better than one-in-two chance, and a girlfriend or boyfriend with a one-in-three-chance; they could also predict, most disturbingly, whether there would be a breakup within two months.

From Erik Sass, The Social Graf, MediaPost

"Interestingly the method used for the study relies on determining the degree of 'dispersion' in an extended social network, meaning 'the extent to which two people’s mutual friends are not themselves well-connected.' While most close relationships are likely to be embedded in a network of relationships of similar strength, according to the researchers romantic relationships differ in that a couple’s various mutual friends are much less likely to know each other independently of the couple."

"Our measure of dispersion looks not just at the number of mutual friends of two people," the study says, "but also at the network structure on these mutual friends; roughly, a link between two people has high dispersion when their mutual friends are not well connected to one another."

The study concluded that people with their own, separate, networks of friends were better in a relationship. It also found that regardless of the strength of your ties to particular friends, it's more important to have a wide range of people in your social circle. So, get out there and make some new friends. Quick!

The good news is, I'd actually have to be dating someone in order for them to break up with me. That's certainly not happening. So, I'm safe. For now.

You can read more about the study in this article from The New York Times.

Image credit: Cameron Marlow/Facebook


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Social media has changed the way that many of us learn, purchase, interact and explore the world around us. And, things are just getting started. Social, Social is a place to discuss social media with people from all walks of life. No experts allowed.

About the Author

Rob works as a digital marketing & public relations consultant to agencies, brands, and individuals. He has 20 years of marketing experience. He also currently serves in a volunteer capacity as director of pr/communications for TEDxDirigo. From 2005-2011, Rob served as director of social media & agency communications at The VIA Agency (Portland). Prior to VIA, Rob worked with several PR & advertising agencies in London & Boston. He is a graduate of The University of Vermont (UVM) and a Maine transplant (2002).

Follow Rob on Twitter at @bobbbyg

His real-life interests include art, travel, writing, design, psychology, the beach, & exercise (grudgingly at times).

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