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A New Way to Out People on Facebook

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Nbroverman

People who don't declare their sexual orientation on Facebook may still be outing themselves.

That's what two students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology determined in an unofficial 2007 study. Boston.com reports that the students tried to predict whether people were gay just by looking at their online friends. Using a software program that looked at the gender and stated sexual orientation of a person's friends, and using some simple statistics, they made predictions that turned out to be quite accurate.

It's no surprise that gay people often surround themselves with other gay people, and the study -- which has never been published in a scientific journal -- shows that this simple generalization can lead to exposing a person's sexual orientation to friends, family members, and employers on sites like Facebook or MySpace. For some, such public exposure can result in being cut off from parents or fired from jobs, especially in states that still allow people to be terminated simply because of their sexual orientation.

"Even if you don't affirmatively post revealing information, simply publishing your friends may reveal sensitive information about you, or it may lead people to make assumptions about you that are incorrect," Kevin Bankston, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights organization in San Francisco, told Boston.com. "Certainly if most or many of your friends are of a particular religious or political or sexual category, others may conclude you are part of the same category -- even if you haven't said so yourself."

Nbroverman
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Neal Broverman

Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.
Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.