In early March of this year, Chris Dixon and Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake launched New York-based Hunch, a so-called “Twitter predictor game” that has a “Ph.D. in insight about people.” In short, with its 82 percent accuracy rate, Hunch takes your Twitter username, looks at the people you follow and the people who follow you and somehow – via an algorithm none of us mere psychologists could even attempt to crack – figures out pretty much anything about you. According to Dixon, “We break people’s taste into about 80 dimensions. Let’s imagine one dimension is political orientation, liberal or conservative, one is gender, one is food preferences, and each of those taste dimensions flows independently through the [Twitter] graph. Depending on who you’re following and who’s following you, we can make inferences about your food preferences or your political preferences.” Eventually, Hunch can even get around to knowing whether or not you’ve ever ridden a Segway or if you know the signs of the zodiac in order.
Scary that a mere Twitter username can reveal so much about you? Perhaps, but then again, you’re probably being very telling in your likes and dislikes manifested by who you choose to follow and the types of people who choose to follow you. Interestingly enough, in a medium that could potentially provide information very far from the truth, it appears that who we really are really does come through – even online.
In a recent article published in Psychological Science entitled “Facebook Profiles Reflect Actual Personality, Not Self-Idealization,” psychologists further show that even when we are allowed the opportunity to manipulate our persona with little real consequence for our actions (say, via Facebook), we just don’t. The authors provide evidence that flat-out disputes the widely held assumption that online social networking (OSN) site profiles are used to create and communicate idealized selves. Instead, findings show that OSN sites constitute an extended social context in which individuals express their actual personality characteristics so that they might form accurate interpersonal perceptions. (Researchers add that it might be difficult to create an idealized self-portrayal on an OSN site because profiles include information about one’s reputation that is difficult to control and friends are able to provide accountability and feedback on your profile.)
It thus appears that we are who we are and there’s no escaping it – even our seemingly anonymous shadows on the Internet tell the truth. Twitter appears to hold data as to who we are that are accessible via knowledge of just our Twitter usernames; further, we appear to want to tell Facebook and other social networking sites who we really are versus who we might really want to be. In short, with all this newfound accuracy, the online communities in which we have become enmeshed might actually be a spot on extension of real life.