Facebook’s Growing Ethnic Diversity Mirrors U.S. Population

Facebook’s Data Team has just published a report called “How Diverse is Facebook?” in which the company analyzed the surnames of U.S. users in order to estimate a breakdown of US Facebook users by ethnicity. The conclusions? While Whites and Asian/Pacific Islanders have historically been more represented on Facebook compared to the US population, Facebook’s user diversity is increasingly mirroring that of the overall US populace.

The objective of the study was to “understand how different populations of users join and use the service” with the ultimate goal of understanding “how these populations of users are connected to each other.” Overall, the report noted that particularly in the past year, Facebook users “nearly mirror” the diversity of the country, with Whites leading the number of users, followed by Blacks, Hispanics and Asians/Pacific Islanders.

The report also examined “saturation” by ethnic and racial groups, defined by Facebook as a fraction of its users as compared to a fraction of Internet users by ethnicity. Facebook found that Asian/Pacific Islanders have been much more likely to be on the site than Whites over time. Hispanics are currently 80 percent as likely as Whites to use Facebook and Black users are about as likely to be users as Whites.

Facebook’s data on age and gender, which we analyze monthly, is also a valuable tool for developers and marketers looking for understand more about Facebook users.

The authors of the report, Facebook analysts Lars Backstrom, Jonathan Chang, Cameron Marlow and Itamar Rosenn, used the U.S. Census Bureau’s Genealogy Project’s data set including the frequency of popular surnames with a breakdown by race and ethnicity to analyze users’ surnames.

They pointed out that, while such predictions are often deceiving, they are correct in aggregate, and added that other statistical models were used to mitigate such problems.

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