Meta publicly released information on Facebook's 21 billion friendships as part of a research project examining economic inequality in the United States, it announced today The company.
Along with new insights into the intersection of wealth and friendships in America, the collaboration between Meta and our researchers shows who Facebook is willing to share data with — and why.
The research team wanted to understand why people in some parts of the US found it easier to move between economic classes than in others. Using the information from Meta, along with other data, a research team released two studies on economic mobility, published Monday in the journal Nature. One study found that people who grow up in areas where there are more friendships between high- and low-income people are more likely to escape poverty and move up the economic ladder.
"Growing up in a community connected across classes improves children's outcomes and gives them a better chance to escape poverty," Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist and lead researcher of the study, told The New York Times.
Many places, however, don't allow much interaction between high- and low-income people, the second of two surveys found. Even when a neighborhood allows for this kind of interaction, people are still more likely to befriend people who are in a similar economic class.
Chetty and his colleagues first accessed the Facebook data in 2018 as part of an effort to understand economic inequality and vast income disparities in the US.
The researchers pulled data from Facebook users in the United States between the ages of 25 and 44 who had used the platform in the past 30 days, had at least 100 friends and linked their account to their zip code – a sample of 72 million people, which is over than 80 percent of the US population in this age group.
The team measured users' socioeconomic status based on things like location, education levels, relationship status and language. The analysis then compared the individuals' socioeconomic status to that of their Facebook friends.
Now, the full data set, covering 21 billion Facebook friendships, is available through Facebook's Data for Good program. People can make it happen search the site shown to the public to see the economic connection of various communities, including their own. Researchers can download the data for additional studies.
Meta and Facebook are touting the Data for Good program as a sign of the company's willingness to work with outside research groups and share the platform's troves of data. This data is often incredibly useful to researchers.
The new studies offer valuable insights into economic mobility in the US, and the data could help researchers understand how people in the US build their relationships. Technology companies like Meta are some of the only ways researchers can find the data they need to perform these kinds of analyses.
However, the reliance on Meta and Facebook for this information means that companies have complete control over even valuable scientific data.