Here's something kind of sinister: employers can use your public Facebook profile to evaluate your personality, and experts say it's just as accurate as common personality tests.
According to ABC, researchers at the University of Maryland looked at Facebook users' "favorite activities, TV shows, movies, music, books, quotes, and membership in political or other organizations" — plus their "About Me" and "blurb" sections. Then they gave the same users the Big Five personality test, which categorizes people based on the qualities of openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, extroversion, and neuroticism. Turns out that their Facebook analysis came pretty close — within 10% — to the Big Five results. Says lead study author Jennifer Golbeck, "Lots of organizations make their employees take personality tests. If you can guess someone's personality pretty well on the Web you don't need them to take the test." And psychologist Sam Gosling says,
It is very important to know what other people are like. Huge professional or personal decisions are based on what other people are like. It's important to use the best information we can.
But do personality tests really tell us what people are like? I enjoy killing time with the online Big Five test as much as the next person (sometimes I take it just to reassure myself that there are people more neurotic than me), but I always kind of think of it like a horoscope — for entertainment purposes only. The idea of employers using the Big Five to decide who to hire has always struck me as creepy, part of the same school of thought that hands out weird corporate storybooks and makes people do bonding exercises. These things are all artificial, and they give the impression that if companies can just hire all the right robots and put them together in the right way, they will have a great big Transformer of corporate productivity. But people are more complicated and less efficient than killer robots, and I'm always skeptical that personality tests do anything more than stress interviewees out and give employers some numbers to make a subjective hiring decision feel more scientific.
In a way, Facebook seems like a better tool — my personal profile, for instance, would tell you that I am interested in Latin, which is extremely useful in the workplace. Of course, poking around in people's Facebook profiles is creepy in its own way, but that's just a Thing We Accept now — and I'd certainly rather somebody judge me on Battlestar Galactica and The Mountain Goats than on my so-called level of neuroticism (lower than a lot of people's! really!). However, there's apparently an even better method on the horizon: says Golbeck, "Twitter is going to give us more information on personality." It is crazy how much you can learn from messages actually typed by an actual person, describing their thoughts and interests. It's almost as good as, you know, talking to them.
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