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Number of African-Americans on Facebook Mirrors US Makeup

Facebook’s Data Team released a very interesting post on Facebook’s blog late last night that reviled the ethnic make-up of Facebook as well as trends in adoption over the past several years.  How you ask, especially when Facebook doesn’t request demographic information from it’s users upon registration?  They used a mixed modeling method based on surnames.  The whole experiment was started to answer the question “How diverse are the ethnic backgrounds of the people using Facebook?”  In the blog post they explain more about how surnames we used to determine race:

Comparing people’s surnames on Facebook with data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, we are able to estimate the racial breakdown of Facebook users over the history of the site.

They are calling this “Friendship Diversity.”  They outlined the methodology in the post as well:

The U.S. Census Bureau’s Genealogy Project publishes a data set containing the frequency of popular surnames along with a breakdown by race and ethnicity. These data are the key to our analysis, so we will spend some time describing them in some detail. An example of the raw data is shown below for the three most-frequent surnames in the census: Smith, Johnson and Williams. These data provide the rank in the population, the total count of people with the name, their proportion per 100,000 Americans, and the percent for various races: White, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, American-Indian/Alaskan Native, two or more races and Hispanic respectively [1].  This data set allows us to predict what a person’s race is based solely on his or her surname. While these predictions will be often be wrong, in aggregate they will be correct. For example, suppose you select 10,000 people with the name Smith from the U.S. population at random. The data above suggest that 7,335 of them will be White, 2,222 will be Black and so on. Certain names will be more predictive of a certain race, while others will predict a wide array of ethnic backgrounds. The table below shows the top three names within the top 1,000 ordered by the percent in a given group. It shows that some ethnicities have distinctive surnames while others do not. For instance, 98.1% of individuals with the name Yoder are White while the most predictive name for American Indian / Alaskan Native individuals only has 4.4% in that group. For this reason, we will only look at White, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander and Hispanic predictions in our analysis….Finally, we adjust the estimates in our analyses with Internet adoption rates based on values from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration report on the Networked Nation. We use the percent of households with Internet access as a proxy for the addressable Internet population of each race or ethnicity.

That’s a mouth full.  You can read more on their methodology on the original blog post from the data team there.  What is interesting is the results.  Facebook’s users are 11% African-American and saw a surge in adoption in 2009, up from 7% in 2005.  The African-American US population is 12%.  When measuring Latinos using this methodology it was a bit more off.  Currently they make up 15% of the US population, on Facebook they represent 9%.  In late 2005 Latino’s represented 3% of Facebook’s users.  Pew recently released a study saying 44% of Twitter’s users are African-American and Latino.

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The data team at Facebook plans to use First names in the future as well as friend connections the get a better understanding of the “diversity of interpersonal relationships.”

38 Comments

Comments

genealogy says:

Sometimes after I have gotten dressed and am on my way to work, I will remain in front of the mirror for a few extra minutes and just .

Vann Digital says:

I hate to say this but even tho I didnt read all that(I stopped at them population numbers) but this article some bull donkey if I ever read any. Is they taking them numbers from who be using that site or from who just up there cause in my opinion, numbers dont mean a thing unless theres activity. Take myself for example, yes Im a Facebook member but Im rarely up there. Im just using Facebook Connect for the most part but to be just up there making friends and talking to people like that, No!!!

Rahsheen says:

I don't think data like this will ever get us any more representation online than it does in the real world. You want representation on TC/Mashable? Create something for them to write about. Angela is right, they're only interested in our celebs. If you're not a celeb already, you need to become one within the tech community. Not just the black tech community. (that's “you” in the general sense 🙂 )

Rahsheen says:

I read most of the report and they did do some things to try and fine-tune the data based on what they know about their own user base, but there is no way it could be anywhere near 100% accurate. At best, it's a really estimate, which may actually be good enough depending.

I totally agree Lynne, the methodology is still a little hard for me to grasp. I also don't remember seeing exactly how accurate the data was within a percentile.

It is helpful to Kulture Keepers like me when i push and shove against Mashable/Techcrunch to acknowledge our presence in the social media world and the fact that they need to include us in the conference, articles and expos.

good luck w/ that 😉 Mashable is interested in us but they are interested in our entertainers and that is it.

Vann Digital says:

I hate to say this but even tho I didnt read all that(I stopped at them population numbers) but this article some bull donkey if I ever read any. Is they taking them numbers from who be using that site or from who just up there cause in my opinion, numbers dont mean a thing unless theres activity. Take myself for example, yes Im a Facebook member but Im rarely up there. Im just using Facebook Connect for the most part but to be just up there making friends and talking to people like that, No!!!

Rahsheen says:

I don't think data like this will ever get us any more representation online than it does in the real world. You want representation on TC/Mashable? Create something for them to write about. Angela is right, they're only interested in our celebs. If you're not a celeb already, you need to become one within the tech community. Not just the black tech community. (that's “you” in the general sense 🙂 )

Rahsheen says:

I read most of the report and they did do some things to try and fine-tune the data based on what they know about their own user base, but there is no way it could be anywhere near 100% accurate. At best, it's a really estimate, which may actually be good enough depending.

I totally agree Lynne, the methodology is still a little hard for me to grasp. I also don't remember seeing exactly how accurate the data was within a percentile.

It is helpful to Kulture Keepers like me when i push and shove against Mashable/Techcrunch to acknowledge our presence in the social media world and the fact that they need to include us in the conference, articles and expos.

good luck w/ that 😉 Mashable is interested in us but they are interested in our entertainers and that is it.

I think I'm having a problem with the idea of last names being used to determine race. It's fine to do a mathematics model based on what's been held to be true, but within what percentile is there certainty and accuracy in this data? I guess I have to read the FB blog post to really understand what they're saying here. I don't think they can claim their ethnic makeup of users within 100% of accuracy given the model.

Thank you for catching all this stuff i cant keep with all the PEW reports as of late…With regards to what Wayne was saying “. I'm not certain how useful the information will be.” It is helpful to Kulture Keepers like me when i push and shove against Mashable/Techcrunch to acknowledge our presence in the social media world and the fact that they need to include us in the conference, articles and expos.

bdpafoundation says:

This is an interesting set of factoids about the RNO breakout of Facebook users. I'm not certain how useful the information will be … but, I appreciate you sharing it with us.

peace, Wayne

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