Once again, Facebook is a petri dish of social behavior

Everyone who uses Facebook (ok, maybe everyone under the age of 30) is familiar with “Facebook Facts” – something you discover about a Facebook friend based on a status update or post. The most commonly exploited of these Facebook facts revolves around relationship status. When someone deletes the status from their profile, the feed on Facebook lists that as “Friend X is no longer single.” Typically that starts an avalanche of assumptions and doubts from people who may not be intimately familiar with Friend X’s actual dating successes or failures. And then along the way, it’s accepted as Facebook Fact.

Facebook has recently proven to be the litmus test for another of social psychology’s great wonders – the chain letter. I’m talking about the millions of people who were tagged in the recent “25 Things” craze. This involved a friend posting 25 random (but hopefully interesting and/or bizarre) facts about themself and then tagging 25 friends to do the same, thereby creating a pyramid scheme of useless personal trivia. In just a few days, dozens of my friends were caught up in the opportunity to list 25 random things about themselves that could, for once, really be considered Facebook facts.

This led me to discover several eye-opening details about some real good friends and some real good Facebook friends, including  “My favorite words are ‘Suave’ and ‘Myrmidon’” and “I once went 52 hours without sleeping or sitting” and “I day dream of playing capture the flag in the woods with a hundred people.”

Slate assistant editor Chris Wilson was also intrigued by the 25 Things and wrote this initial article and this follow-up, the latter of which compares the 25 Things contagion to the outbreak of infectious disease. Although not surprising, given the constant connectivity of people these days, it’s still interesting to see how quickly virtual information gets spread to such large numbers of people.


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