Facebook ‘Friends,’ and Why We Should Lose the Scare Quotes

With every click on Facebook, you leave a little trail of your social life. Now researchers are saying they can piece those clues together, and pick out who your closest friends are.Among friends there are countless hierarchies. Perhaps you have a tight-knit circle from college, another group that goes way back to high school or even earlier, and maybe other small, interlocking sets, each including a few very dear ones and many more mere buddies. Somewhere in there are your best friends, and you know who they are. So, as it turns out, does Facebook — or at least it could, if it wanted.On Facebook, all of these complex and differentiated relationships get collapsed — flattened — under the label “friend.” But researchers at UC San Diego wanted to see whether it could figure out — just from people’s Facebook activity — who their closest friends were. They asked a survey group to list their close friends and then, using a model based on comments, messages, wall posts, likes, photo tags, etc. tried to see if they could say whether any given pair of people were close. They could do so accurately 84 percent of the time. These Facebook clues are “successful proxies for such real-world tie strength.”

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