How Facebook Tries to Predict If You're Liberal or Conservative

Facebook's judging you, but it might be wrong.

Getty Images / Alex Wong

Facebook’s algorithms try to predict your political leanings, even if you desperately avoid every politicized post you come across. The largest social media network in the world judges you harder than Gretchen Wieners, all in the name of appropriately targeted ads.

Now, thanks to a move toward more transparency, you can see how Facebook categorizes you: liberal, conservative, or middling.

  • Click the “Lifestyle and Culture” tab in the “Interests” section.
  • There will be a box with the heading “U.S. Politics,” and underneath the heading in parenthesis will be Facebook’s judgment.

Facebook uses a wide swath of data to deduce a person’s political preferences. Some of the things Facebook says are included: pages you and your friends “like,” personal information pulled from Facebook and Instagram, and places where you check in.

The way Facebook classifies you matters. Your political category (and the many others) are used to determine which ads you see and which pages are suggested, and advertisers dump dollars into targeted ad campaigns based on these classifications.

But there’s a problem. These categories can be very, very wrong, especially in the case of light Facebook users. Case in point: me.

My obscure Facebook classifications.


“You have this preference because we think it may be relevant to you based on what you do on Facebook,” is Facebook’s justification for labeling me as a conservative.

I haven’t liked a specific political campaign on Facebook. The most political I’ve gotten is a post about how I believe there should be stricter gun laws. I mostly use Facebook simply as a place for pictures and to share an occasional story that someone like my mom and my former teachers would be interested in reading. Hence the many blank boxes and assumptions Facebook has to make about my likes and dislikes.

I’m not conservative. I grew up with a left-leaning mom on the central coast of California. I attended President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2008, and traveled to Selma, Alabama in 2015 to hear Obama speak for the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery. I’m not drowning in deep blue, but I tend to agree more with liberal policies than conservative.

A sampling of my recent Facebook posts over the past two months include pictures of food, stories about drones, and a short video I made of pictures I took while marching in a black lives matter protest in New York City.

So why does Facebook label me conservative? Most likely the answer lies in my friend base. I went to college at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama. Alabama is the second-most conservative state, according to a 2015 Gallup poll (Mississippi is the first), and many of my friends were conservatives with a long, conservative family history.

People are influenced by their friends, but I can say with certainty that I don’t fit the typical “conservative” label. Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Facebook knows me better than I know me.

H/T New York Times.

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