How Facebook Reveals When You Are (and Aren’t) Crazy in Love

What you do on Facebook may reflect more about your relationship than you think.

Posted Aug 25, 2017

javi_indy/Shutterstock
Source: javi_indy/Shutterstock

A lot can be inferred about you by what you do on Facebook, from basic details like your age and birthday to more personal information, such as your political views, your personality traits, and even your risk for suicide or self-injury. (If you’re curious what your Facebook data say about you, the next time you see an ad in your news feed, click “Why am I seeing this?” and take a look at your ad preferences.) 

But what if Facebook could also be used to draw inferences about your romantic relationship? You may be surprised to learn that what you do on Facebook (aside form updating your relationship status) can be used to predict when you’re in love or when you're about to break up—with surprising accuracy. Here are just a few of the ways that researchers (and Facebook itself) are using the site to foretell your relationship’s future.

What Happy Couples Do on Facebook

A while back, Facebook published a series of blog posts in which a team of data scientists described how romantic relationships unfold on the site using logs of user activity. In one post, the data science team explored how often partners posted on each other’s timelines just before changing their status from “Single” to “In a Relationship.” Their findings pointed to a gradual increase in timeline posts in the 100 days prior to entering into a relationship, followed by a decrease in activity after becoming “Facebook Official.”

That isn’t to say that new couples are keeping their relationships off social media entirely. Despite posting less, what couples did post contained more positive feelings (e.g., words like “love,” “nice,” and “happy”) as their relationships progressed. One explanation for this finding was that when two people become a couple, they start spending more time together, leaving them with less of a need to frequently post on each other’s Facebook pages.   

Other research on how romantic partners use Facebook has shown that married couples who posted a profile picture that included their spouse also felt closer to their partner and more satisfied with their relationship than those who opted for a solo photo. If you’re someone who shares affectionate notes on your partner’s page and projects a joint couple identity through your profile picture, it could mean you really are happy in love.

Using Social Media to Predict Romantic Breakups

There’s also a growing body of evidence suggesting that a breakup can be predicted by the nature and structure of a couple’s social network. In their article, “Ignore Your Partners’ Current Facebook Friends; Beware the Ones They Add!” Michelle Drouin and colleagues found that the less committed participants were to their current partners, the more likely they were to accept friend requests from — or even send requests to — potential romantic interests on Facebook. Importantly, it didn’t matter if these connections already existed when the relationship started — don’t expect your significant other to delete all the exes from his or her friends list — it was only adding "back burners" while currently in the relationship that proved to be problematic.  

In another study, researchers at Facebook and Cornell University set out to answer the following: “Given all the connections among a person’s friends, can you recognize his or her romantic partner from the network structure alone?” They found that you can, specifically by focusing on dispersion, or the connections between partners’ mutual Facebook friends. Moreover, the study’s authors observed that when people had friends in common with their partner who weren’t acquainted with one another — for instance, a family member, a coworker, and a friend from college — they were less susceptible to a breakup over the next few months than those with less diversity in their shared connections.

Pay attention to the digital traces you and your partner are leaving behind. It just might be a sign of where your relationship is headed.

References

Backstrom, L., & Kleinberg, J. (2014). Romantic partnerships and the dispersion of social ties: A network analysis of relationship status on Facebook. Proceedings of the 17th ACM conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, 831-841. doi: 10.1145/2531602.2531642

Diuk, C. (2014, February 14). The formation of love [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/notes/facebook-data-science/the-formation-of-love/10152064609253859/?fref=mentions

Drouin, M., Miller, D. A., & Dibble, J. L. (2014). Ignore your partners’ current Facebook friends; beware the ones they add! Computers in Human Behavior, 35, 483-488. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2014.02.032

Kwon, D. (2017, March 8). Can Facebook’s machine-learning algorithms accurately predict suicide? Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/can-facebooks-machine-learning-algorithms-accurately-predict-suicide/

Merrill, J. B. (2016, August 23). Liberal, moderate or conservative? See how Facebook labels you. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/24/us/politics/facebook-ads-politics.html

Saslow, L. R., Muise, A., Impett, E. A., & Dubin, M. (2012). Can you see how happy we are? Facebook images and relationship satisfaction. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4, 411-418. doi: 10.1177/1948550612460059

Sehmer, A. (2015, September 5). What does Facebook know: New app uses what you ‘like’ to predict your personality. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/what-does-facebook-know-new-app-uses-what-you-like-to-predict-your-personality-10488128.html