Racial Diversity Analysis by Facebook Data Team

By December 17, 2009

Last night a report on the ethnic makeup of Facebook was released on a note from the Facebook Data Team. After much calculation, the team has determined that though it began with a stronger proportionate presence of individuals with White and Asian backgrounds, it now closer reflects the current online US population. The conclusion was reached by analyzing members' last names, since the social networking site does not ask profile questions involving race information. Comparing surnames to data from the US Census Bureau, the Data Team arrived at numbers based on the proportion of each ethnicity that makes up each documented name. Of those named Smith, for example, Census respondents were polled to be 73.35 percent White, 22.22 percent black, and 1.63 percent 2prace (two or more races), to illustrate the three highest incidence rates.

Since different minority populations have differing Internet adoption rates, the Data Team further processed the Census proportions with mixture-modeling, Internet adoption rates from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Internet-enabled household percentages.

According to the Facebook note, while the methods are flawed, on an amassed scale they work out accurately. Based on the information, they believe that Facebook has a diverse population that roughly matches the ethnic distribution of US Internet users. The Mercury News partially concurs, citing recent increases of Latinos to the Internet in 2007, and the same occurring with African-Americans in 2009, possibly connected to the last presidential election. But while Facebook has close to the twelve percent share of Black US citizens, the site's Latino members are below the fifteen percent of the US population.

Other reactions include the high marketability of this data to advertisers and marketers, as ZDnet points out. ReadWriteWeb draws parallels to the dangers of Redlining Facebook, and calls for the Data Team to release their numbers for external interests to analyze.

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