Controversial Study for a Controversial Site

Dennis Faas's picture

Facebook has come under much scrutiny since its popularity exploded during 2007. With the year rounding out, we can think back to all the buzz created by a social networking site that asked for an individual's private details and then neatly handed them to Microsoft's advertising division.  Questions of voyeurism and greed continue to dog Facebook.

Now, a controversial study is examining the controversial web site.

Researchers at Harvard University have decided that they'd like to know what the racial and ethnic interests of Facebook users might be. The analysts recently gained access to the Facebook habits of a university class, and say "we did find interesting trends."

Harvard professor Jason Kaufman and his team have set out to examine the ethnic backgrounds of Facebook users. Essentially, Kaufman and his colleagues want to know this: just what race tends to have the most racially diverse friends list?

Although Harvard's researchers say they're still in the process of bringing together all of their data, some trends are now emerging. "For example, we found that African-American students and students of mixed race have the most racially heterogeneous networks -- friends with the most people of colours other than their own," says Kaufman.

Not only that, but African-American Facebook users tended to act as 'brokers', a role whereby they link different groups together. It's unclear at this time whether this means African-American users bring together different ethnicities or generally unique interests, and is evidence that the study is ongoing.

What's the point?

According to Kaufman, the information compiled together here demonstrates the interests that weave together our social fabric. Researchers want to know just what links people to one another; could it be music tastes, level of academic study, or profession? Kaufman believes his group's use of Facebook provides a "very natural, organic way of peering into social life." (Source:

Although neither Kaufman nor his lackies are saying it, all of this information will probably prove very useful for advertisers. Also troubling is the study's use of Facebook profiles sans written consent.

It isn't even the first bit of controversy to hit Facebook this week. Just before Santa finished his naughty and nice chart, a Toronto report examined kids' the discriminatory remarks from kids towards their Saturday morning rivals in the Greater Toronto Hockey League. The issue has aroused emotions connected to free speech and fair play, a debate hardly new to the social networking phenomenon. (Source:

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