Can Facebook and Alexa Predict Your Next Breakup?

Do Millennials Lack Social Skills Because of Dating Apps and Texting?

We’re in the early years of big data and artificial intelligence. It may seem like it’s already ubiquitous, but we’re just getting started here. Facial recognition, ads that predict what you’re about to buy, “the internet of things” which knows when you’re running out of milk – it’s all kind of cool and kind of scary.

Then I read this article about AI predicting the demise of your relationship.

Maybe I’m naive, but it kind of sounds like bullshit to me.

“In 2013, Facebook engineer Lars Backstrom and Jon Kleinberg of Cornell University co-authored a paper identifying a number of factors that contribute to long-term relationship success, such as whether a couple had lots of friends in common or whether they posted a lot of photos together. The researchers found they were able to determine with 60 percent accuracy whether a couple would break up. A subsequent study by Facebook data scientist Bogdan State analyzed Facebook relationship statuses from 2008 to 2011. He found that couples on Facebook were more likely to stay together once they hit the three-month mark, with their chances of success increasing the longer they stay together.”

I’m no scientist but the first paper is only as accurate as how much someone uses Facebook.

I’m no scientist but the first paper is only as accurate as how much someone uses Facebook. I have college friends who aren’t on there while their wives are. What does that say about their relationship? Nothing.

Similarly, couples who make it three months are more likely to stay together than – what – couples who break up before three months?  Indeed, couples who stay together are more likely to stay together.

There’s more in the article about algorithms that can predict your future, but here’s the reason I don’t believe in them: humans can’t predict their future.

It’s possible that a John Gottmaneseque algorithm could listen to all of your conversations, reveal whether he is turning away from your bids for connection and affection, and point out that your relationship is not healthy.

But there’s a big difference between a bad relationship and a breakup. Hundreds of millions of people are in bad relationships and don’t break up – out of fear, inertia, insecurity, money, sunk costs, etc. The best an algorithm (or a dating coach) can do is tell you that something is wrong; whether you do anything about it is ultimately a human choice.

Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.



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  1. 1

    I agree. I do think (and have experienced) that differing levels of use of technology, level of materialism, can be a source of relationship strife. This is indicative of a major disconnect as to lifestyle and values on many levels. I too know of couples where one is heavily into social media and one is not, they are compatible in overall level of materialism. Folks also use social media for different reasons; the person on Faceplant to stay “connected” and follow trends is likely not very compatible to the person using it to publicize environmental or human rights violations.
    Also true; one cannot predict ones future, especially how a couple will react to a traumatic event.

  2. 2

    Evan, I don’t think you’re naive, but I do think that the paper hits on something accurate – at least to my level of anecdotes (and we all know how reliable anecdotes are). It is absolutely true among my Facebook friends that the ones who have healthy relationships, including ones where I’ve seen them argue, but in productive ways, take more photos together, like and comment on each other’s status more, etc. The ones where at least one person doesn’t really want to be in it, or they seem to be competing with each other, will feature few photos together and seemingly no interest in liking or commenting on each other’s statuses, except sometimes to say snarky things.

    Then again, this is one of those situations where we feel: did we really need a paid research study to show these results? It’s obvious to everyone who’s friends with them.

  3. 3

    Is 60% accuracy really that impressive? It may be statistically significant, but is it all that meaningful? It sounds like a lot of couples who post joint photos and have mutual friends split while a lot of couples who don’t do these things stay together. Just another “study” that sounds important but doesn’t really tell us much.

    1. 3.1

      You’re right. It means nothing. “Significant” and the 60% accuracy have no relationship to one another. The term “significant” without accompanying sample size and confidence intervals means nothing statistically. Welcome to 99% of mass media. Always wanted these algorithms to be based upon questions of substance. Like Evan stated, you cannot predict the future. A better measure of whether a rship will stand the test of time is how the couple handles money, gets through tough times, deals with stress and hardship in general. These questions are happy feel good stuff nor will sell products so they aren’t addressed.

  4. 4

    I can tell you that I am one of the scenarios in which this is *highly* inaccurate. We were together four years. Photos all over the place. Hundreds of mutual friends, (whom we actually know, not just “facebook friends.) We were engaged,
    All our friends thought it was the Romance of the ages. They told us they looked up to our relationship, that we gave them hope.
    He broke up with me a month before our wedding.

    Nothing and no one can predict that. I think it’s important to simply live life fully, and be ALL IN, and not worry about the outcome. And yes, this is coming from someone with a fairly smashed heart, who wanted to work on things with someone who wasn’t even interested in going to counseling. Who was capable of hiding from me that he just wasn’t completely into this.
    Because this is life. I regret none of it. The photos may seem “fake” to him, looking back, because of this argument or that petty thing, but that wasn’t my experience. I look at each photo and I feel the residual glow of the love I felt. The safety I felt. The trust I felt.
    That was, yes, largely of my creation, as it turns out. I looked at him and saw my hero, and he was not feeling the same way… and it didn’t matter to him that he was a hero in my eyes.

    But that love is mine. Those years are mine. I experienced something rare and beautiful – it doesn’t matter if he was lying. I wasn’t. I am sad that he missed out on the beauty he was offered; I am sad that he won’t be able to know the majesty and depth of my heart, but I do. And I did.

    So regardless of what the “experts” say, and the predictions are, I’m here to tell you – be FULLY in it, when you’re in it. Don’t be afraid; you’ll miss your own life, if you’re too scared to risk hurt.
    I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. 😉

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