How Much Does Facebook Really Know About You? Predicting Motives For Facebook Use From Logged Data

People consume media for many different reasons and, indeed, individuals use a wide range of channels to achieve diverse ends: entertainment, edutainment, information seeking, communication, socializing, and surveillance to name but a few. Uses and Gratifications (U&G) is a theoretical framework that facilitates studying these motives and outcomes – casting light on the how and why of media consumption. U&G has been applied to formats as diverse as tabloids, reality TV, mobile phones and, lately, social network sites. A U&G study typically involves three elements: motives for media use, social and psychological antecedents, and cognitive, attitudinal, or behavioral outcomes. The value of U&G lies in combining these factors: the motives people have for using a service are seen in the context of specific kinds of users (e.g. via antecedents such as demographics) and the behaviors they engage in (e.g. outcomes such as purchasing content).

The combination of the three elements is at the heart of our approach.
The combination of the three elements is at the heart of our approach.

Most U&G studies collect this information from surveys or questionnaires. While this technique is good at eliciting motives – asking why – it is weaker at capturing antecedents and outcomes. Indeed, data for these categories is typically limited to a few basic demographic and usage questions: asking about age, gender, and time or frequency of use. Beyond being coarse-grained, such information can also be hard to recall accurately. To address these problems, we studied Facebook motivations with a data-driven approach. We surveyed motives and simultaneously collected a rich dataset from the Facebook API. This included eleven usage metrics (e.g. number of photographs, “likes” given, events attended) and eight personal network metrics (e.g. network size, density, connected components) that we used as novel outcomes and antecedents. This data provided novel insights into Facebook use.

– In line with prior work, we identified seven motives for Facebook use: social connection, shared identities, photographs, content, social investigation, social network surfing and newsfeed.

– We showed that data gathered from the Facebook API predicts these motives. For instance, we can determine if Facebook users are primarily interested in connecting with others, looking at photographs, or stalking, based directly on their usage patterns and network structure.

– We gained a deeper understanding of motives for using Facebook. For example, the Social Investigation motive was linked to longer times spent on site but negatively linked with posting status updates. This profile highlights the “lurkers” on Facebook: the silent majority who observe but don’t post.

For more, see our full paper, Understanding Motivations for Facebook Use: Usage Metrics, Network Structure, and Privacy.

Tasos Spiliotopoulos, Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute, University of Madeira
Ian Oakley, Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology

About the author

Tasos Spiliotopoulos

HCI PhD student at the University of Madeira and M-ITI. Researching applications of social network analysis.

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