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Facebook, Ye Hardly Knew Me

Politicians, like many of us in the business world, place a lot of faith these days in big data to help them reach audiences more effectively. But their “magic sauce” may not always be quite so magical.

A recent Bloomberg article described the offerings of London-based Cambridge Analytica, largely but not exclusively the “psychographic profiles” it provides to clients, specifically the GOP presidential hopeful Ted Cruz. The idea is that, by understanding a combination of relatively static markers of temperament or personality in combination with more traditional predictors of attitudes or behavior, campaigns will be able to target potential voters in a more effective and sustained way.

“Your behavior is driven by your personality and actually the more you can understand about people’s personality as psychological drivers, the more you can actually start to really tap in to why and how they make their decisions,” Cambridge CEO Alexander Nix told Bloomberg.

Understanding someone’s personality can be challenging. Understanding the personalities of millions of people is exponentially so. One method? Scrape their Facebook accounts for clues. In a world where people are eager to take online quizzes and self-evaluations of all types, Cambridge’s Psychometrics Centre has compiled a pool of anonymized data from users voluntarily granting the program access to their social media data. That data is available to scholars for academic research; to everyone else, it is commercially available as the product Apply Magic Sauce.

I was curious about the magic in Apply Magic Sauce. Their website allows visitors to request their own profile in exchange for access to their public Facebook profile and likes. I duly entered my credentials and waited to see what it could determine about me.

The profile did not take long, and came with a disclaimer: “This is a prediction of your psycho-demographic profile based on your Facebook Likes. It uses a snapshot of your digital footprint to visualise how others perceive you online and therefore may not be an entirely accurate picture of who you really are.” Then it gets to the predictions.

According to Apply Magic Sauce, I am 27 years old. This happens to be the average age of my two daughters, not me. But if you want to seat me at the children’s table, you probably are not that far off the mark.

My “psychological gender” is 58 percent masculine. This is what happens to a guy who counts “Titanic” among his favorite movies. But in defense of my manhood, let me note that I almost died of boredom when I was subjected to the 2012 film adaptation of “Anna Karenina.”

I am not particularly bright, registering as more intelligent than 47 percent of the population. Either I’m a very good test taker, or I just had a series of lucky days in the past when I took tests like the SAT, ACT and GMAT, not to mention the exams for my CPA and CFP® credentials.

Apply Magic Sauce suggests I am not particularly happy either. The profile indicates I am more satisfied with life than 43 percent of the population. You folks must be deliriously upbeat. When I look at my family, my work, my friends, my colleagues and my clients, I cannot think of a single thing I could possibly ask from life that it has not delivered. I know how remarkably lucky I am to feel this way.

On the “Big Five” personality traits, the center of both Apply Magic Sauce’s profile and the approach Cambridge Analytica takes to personality, I fall close to the middle of the pack in openness, veering slightly toward “liberal and artistic” rather than “conservative and traditional.” In conscientiousness, I tilt even more slightly toward “impulsive and spontaneous” over “organized and hard working.”

But despite all my networking and blogging, in extraversion I tilt decidedly away from “engaged with the outside world” in favor of being “contemplative.” I rank even lower in agreeableness, being much more prone to competitive behavior than to collaboration, even though running my own company means I have to do nearly everything in conjunction with others. On the other hand, I can take pleasure in being pretty far down the neuroticism scale, instead being inclined to “laid back and relaxed” behavior.

I am almost as apt to be politically liberal as conservative - though if you read my blog, you may not think so. My Republican sympathies are no secret. On the other hand, I am socially liberal by most people’s standards, so I can see where Apply Magic Sauce might get confused.

I grew up in a kosher home, had a bar mitzvah and sent two daughters to Jewish Sunday school, but nevertheless, in all likelihood, I am either Christian or of no faith. If you asked me, I would tell you I am “culturally Jewish,” though nonobservant, so you can label me as you choose.

Oh, and despite the fact that my Facebook profile includes my degrees in journalism and accounting, the fact that I am president of a company with “Financial Group” in its name and plenty of links to this blog, I am highly unlikely to have interests in business, finance or journalism. My biggest interest, according to Apply Magic Sauce? Psychology.

Well, I suppose that’s fair. I really need to get to know myself better, at least according to the computers.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business."

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