Facebook Is for Single People

What Women Really Think
Feb. 19 2014 9:52 AM

Facebook Is for Single People

180291585-an-internet-user-looks-at-a-facebook-page-dedicated-to
Facebook is for stalking.

Photo by Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

Facebook's data science team went looking for patterns in the romantic relationships that form and dissolve on its site and found that people in relationships have less use for the social network than do the crushing and the dumped.

In one experiment, Facebook looked at pairs of people who friend each other, exchange messages, and ultimately enter into "a relationship" with each other on the site. (Nice.) In the 100 days before the beginning of the relationship, Facebook observed "a slow but steady increase in the number of timeline posts shared between the future couple." But once they make it official, "posts begin to decrease," from a high of 1.67 posts per day 12 days before the relationship begins, to a low of 1.53 posts per day 85 days in.

Advertisement

In another test, Facebook studied a group of users who "had been in a relationship for at least four weeks with someone who then switched their relationship status to 'Single.' " (Ouch.) Then, they "tracked a combination of the number of messages they sent and received, the number of posts from others on their timeline and the number of comments from others on their own content," starting a month before the breakup and ending a month afterward. They found that dumpees registered an average 225 percent increase in their level of Facebook activity, which then "gradually stabilize[d] over the course of a week to levels higher to those observed pre-breakup."

Facebook's data suggests that your use of the network creeps up as you circle around a potential relationship, tapers off while you're in it, and spikes again when you break up. Say what you will about the declining cultural relevance of the world's most popular social network—it's still the most effective vehicle for checking out potential relationship partners and checking in on them after the relationship ends. Facebook is finely tuned to stalking activity, allowing you to assess a near-stranger's (or ex-partner's) interests, compare your mutual friends, and monitor their interactions in a way that the highly public stream of consciousness of Twitter and the veritable ghost town of Google Plus do not. And Facebook's findings reflect the nature of modern Internet flirtation, where mutual interest is gauged more by the frequency of your interactions—how many times did she like your posts or he comment on your ancient profile photos—than explicit overtures. Breakups, too, play out via a perceptible uptick in activity across your network; commenting on other people's walls instead of your ex's passive-aggressively demonstrates that you've moved on to other prospects. Confirmed relationships require less romantic subterfuge—Facebook found that while couples engaged with each other less after the deal was sealed, they were more likely to use positive words like love, nice, and happy in their posts after cementing the relationship. One hopes that some of the more lovey-dovey messages simply migrated to one-on-one texts—or even face-to-face communication.

This squares with recent findings that people in emerging markets like India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Kenya overwhelmingly locate their romantic partners through Facebook. But it also suggests that for many people, Facebook is more a means to an end than a place for sustaining interpersonal excitement. If courtship on Facebook plays out through high levels of interaction, intimacy is sustained by holding back. Maybe not enough­­—people in three-month-long Facebook relationships still post on each other's walls an average of more than once a day, which seems like excessive confirmation for two people who both know they're into it.

Amanda Hess is a Slate staff writer. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

The World’s Politest Protesters

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The Feds Have Declared War on Encryption—and the New Privacy Measures From Apple and Google

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You

It spreads slowly.

These “Dark” Lego Masterpieces Are Delightful and Evocative

Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Activists Are Trying to Save an Iranian Woman Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?