What Does Facebook Know About Your Love Life?

Facebook screen shotCredit: Leigh Goessl

Facebook has grown to become a routine part of the lives of millions of people worldwide. It wasn't too long ago the world's most popular social network passed a whopping 1 billion members, millions of whom are actively sharing information daily.

Users of Facebook share information about everything from what they ate for breakfast to their favorite YouTube video of the week and much in between. In the course of communicating with family and friends, many members also share more intimate information, and perhaps without even realizing they've done so (due to what might be considered random posts) or that anyone outside their immediate circles might possibly notice the information they've posted.  Alone these posts may not mean a thing, but when collected and consolidated with other information, it begins to provide a fuller picture.

Every year Facebook's Data Science team takes a look at different trends observed on Facebook, and, not surprisingly since the social network giant is all about connecting with other people, as part of its analysis the Facebook team looks at relationship trends. For instance, in March 2012, the team focused on a detailed analysis to how love relationships change with the seasons1. In 2014, the company's analysis team took a look at this data and more.

Trends Facebook tracks includes relationship statuses, length of relationships, age differences between partners, and the best cities for singles. The company states this information is derived from "anonymized, aggregated data."

Just what does Facebook know about the love lives of its members?

Relationship Statuses

For starters, Facebook calculates the breakdown of various relationship statuses. In September 20142, Statistic Brain reported the social network giant had listed the following:

  • 37 percent of members  as "single"
  • 31 percent say they are "married"
  • 24 percent are "in a relationship" 
  • 3 percent indicated they are "engaged"
  • 3 percent of members are more vague in status, ticking off the button saying "it's complicated"

This statistic category in itself is probably not surprising since a lot of people actively select a relationship status on their profiles for others to visibly see, but have you considered what else the network knows about the love lives of its members based on their posts and other network activities?

Seasonal Love

In previous Facebook analysis, the summer months spelled bad news for relationships and this trend continues. In 2014, the evaluation was no different. Information Week reported Facebook's data indicates May to July is the time frame that many relationships appear to end, along with a February dip3.

As for lasting relationships, the data appears to indicate the longer two people have been in a relationship, the stronger chance it has of lasting. Approximately half of committed relationships acknowledged on Facebook that make it to the 12-month marker have a higher chance of experiencing a long-term commitment.

Couple in loveCredit: sharayah Sherry from Boise, United States/Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license w/Attribution

Age Differences Between Mates

Age trends in couples is another factor Facebook has examined in its data collection. According to Buzzfeed, the network's analysis showed men are 2.4 years older than their female partners4. In heterosexual relationships, 67 percent of the men are the older partner and just 13 percent of the time women are older than their boyfriends or husbands. As a side note, in Egypt there is the highest age difference as, on average, the men are about five years older than their partners.

Top Cities for Singles to Meet

Those looking for love can perhaps turn to Facebook's analysis to help finding a partner. According to a post in the relationship series that was dedicated to cities and singles, Facebook announced various cities linked to love and relationships5.  In order, in the United States, the top places currently determined to have the "largest probability of relationship formation for a single person" are:

  • Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • El Paso, Texas
  • Louisville, Kentucky
  • Fort Worth, Texas
  • San Antonio, Texas

Based on this information, it appears the state of Texas might just be the place to be for anyone looking for love this year. However, those seeking companionship, but are not interested in any long-term relationships might want to check out cities such as San Francisco, Washington, New York, and Los Angeles. According to Facebook, these cities currently have "plenty of single people" along with "low rates of relationship formation."

Getting By With Help from Your Friends

In another blog post in the series, Facebook noted a +225 percent increase of the average volume of interactions in the immediate time frame after a breakup and after a few days the activity slowed down6. Their data illustrates how people tend to seek out support from their circle of friends on the network. And perhaps this indicates that these days people may possibly turn to Facebook for support rather than picking up the phone or sending out emails to their family and friends when they need a shoulder to turn to in times of relationship troubles or breakups. This trend perhaps illustrates the shift in societal changes that are occurring due to heavier use of technology and when online, social media. Mobile likely also plays a strong role since sharing information and/or thoughts are practically instant.

A Broken HeartCredit: Leigh Goessl/Microsoft Paint

With over a billion members registered, the level of data Facebook has access to is staggering. Perhaps the big question is why is Facebook spending the resources to analyze these trends and how will this information ultimately be used and? The reality is, even if you have your privacy settings locked up tight, while the data itself is reported to be anonymous, it is important to keep in mind that someone is definitely watching. This article only touches upon relationships, not other trends that are likely being tracked. 

Social sharing is clearly already beyond arriving on the horizon, we've passed that point, but what will the next phase in social interaction be? Just how much will Facebook and other social networks know about our relationships and other aspects of our lives in years to come? As technology progresses at its current rapid rate and more capabilities are added (i.e. facial recognition, biometrics, etc.), things could be very different - even a few years from now.

Things to think about. Just how much do we want businesses to know?