It's no secret that Facebook, the planet's largest social-media platform, is constantly gathering intelligence on all its users. What, did you think all those "likes" were just going down the drain at the end of a long workday? Articles you share, shows you endorse, pages with which you interact—all of this is being filtered, collated, and used by Facebook. They sell this sort of "psychographic" data, along with demographic and geographic information, to advertisers and other users who want to reach particular audiences with particular messages, products, and the like. That's actually good news for those of us who are the recipients: Theoretcially, we're more likely to get news and offers for things about which we actually care.
Just in time for the final few months of the 2016 election, The New York Times spills the beans on how Facebook classifies us when it comes to politics. Try it out:
Go to facebook.com/ads/preferences on your browser. (You may have to log in to Facebook first.)
That will bring you to a page with your ad preferences. Under the "Interests" header, click the "Lifestyle and Culture" tab.
Then look for a box titled "US Politics." In parentheses, it will describe how Facebook has categorized you, such as liberal, moderate or conservative.
(If the "US Politics" box does not show up, click the "See more" button under the grid of boxes.)
Facebook makes a deduction about your political views based on the pages that you like — or on your political preference, if you stated one, on your profile page. If you like the page for Hillary Clinton, Facebook might categorize you as a liberal.
Even if you do not like any candidates' pages, if most of the people who like the same pages that you do — such as Ben and Jerry's ice cream — identify as liberal, then Facebook might classify you as one, too.
Once you get there, you can also screw around with various preferences and access all sorts of other categorizations. Make as much mischief as you can. Or as little as you want. It's all good.
As a professional libertarian (yes, blargh) who spends way too much time clicking on articles (rants, in the best-case scenario) about economic regulation, lifestyle repression, drug policy reform, non-interventionism here and abroad, and more, I am of course mad as hell that I was originally classified as conservative. Then again, maybe I should just be relieved that Reason's Facebook page hasn't been disappeared (yet).
What did Facebook say you are? Come clean in the comments section.
And yes, the service should have a separate category just for libertarians. So should the broadcast and cable networks, the op-ed pages, and all the advertisers, hair salons, and supermarkets, too. Punish them all with market forces! And in the meantime, tweak the hell out of your Facebook preferences.