I have recently been trying out Facebook’s new Graph Search and perusing the various websites and articles talking about the privacy and abuse concerns. After playing around with it by searching various things (“my conservative friends” – 0 hits, “my republican friends” – 1 hit, “my liberal friends” – 91 hits, “my friends that like ice cream” – 9 hits) I started wondering what my ratio of gay to straight friends was. I have long felt that we all naturally gravitate towards people more like us or away from those not like ourselves (see “my republican friends” search above for an exclusionary example), but I always hope to have a greater balance of different influences in my life that I actually have, so it is interesting to try to take stock in various ways.
I began searching “my female friends interested in men” which yielded 18 results, then “my female friends interested in women” which yielded 3 results (all three were included in the prior search, so one assumes bisexual perhaps – more on this later). “My female friends” yielded 118 total.
On to the men, I started with “my gay male friends” which Facebook changed to “my male friends interested in men” and that yielded 85 results, followed by “my male friends” which yielded 147 results.
What is interesting is that if I add up my female and male friends (as identifiable in Facebook search) I get a total of 265, far short of the 593 friends I have on Facebook What this means is that the rest of the people have either declined to state their sex, are intersexed (a subsequent check shows that Facebook does not even allow setting this), or set their privacy controls to prevent searching this information.
When I put in “my straight male friends interested in women” which Facebook changed to “my male friends interested in women” I got a total of 40 results, but only 14 of those were from guys I know as straight. The rest were from guys that I identify as gay (from various social interactions with them). Each of them listed “interested in males and females”, which I suppose has several possible ways to interpret:
1. Although “interested in” nominally means for romantic/sexual purposes, it can also be construed to mean friendship and general interest. So perhaps the guys putting this in were using these other meanings.
2. It could be that with the continued existence of homophobia in several parts of the world (and self loathing around the exclusively gay label), some of these people felt it was a little more safe to claim to be interested romantically in women, though they are not.
3. Some of these people are truly self-identified as bisexual (whether they act on it or not).
On the flip side, it was interesting to note that of the 14 men I have always identified as straight, I was surprised that three of them listed “interested in males and females” (for reasons 1 or 3 above, or in the inverse of 2, to seem more hip and cool than they actually are).
Obviously, even within the subset of my friends who can be identified by gender, many decline to state their interest in either sex. Although a number of them may truly be asexual, the majority probably see this as something private they need not share. Or I suppose they could be married or otherwise coupled and not looking for any romantic attachment, thus declining to state for that reason.
I have some ambivalence about Facebook’s new search, even as I think it is technologically cool. Time will tell if these tools open us up to still more misuse and abuse of our information, and what “privacy” means in an increasingly interconnected world.