Claim: “Facebook knows when you’ll break up”

There is an interesting chart going around that is based on Facebook data and claims to show when people are more prone to break-up. Here is a quick description of the chart:

British journalist and graphic designer David McCandless, who specializes in showcasing data in visual ways, compiled the chart. He showed off the graphic at a TED conference last July in Oxford, England.

In the talk, McCandless said he and a colleague scraped 10,000 Facebook status updates for the phrases “breakup” and “broken up.”

They found two big spikes on the calendar for breakups. The first was after Valentine’s Day — that holiday has a way of defining relationships, for better or worse — and in the weeks leading up to spring break. Maybe spring fever makes people restless, or maybe college students just don’t want to be tied down when they’re partying in Cancun.

Potentially interesting findings and it is an interesting way to present this data. But when you consider how the data was collected, perhaps it isn’t so great. A few thoughts on the subject:

1. The best way to figure this out would be to convince Facebook to let you have the data for relationship status changes.

2. Searching for the word “breakup” and “broken up” might catch some, or perhaps even many ended relationships, but not all. Does everyone include these words when talking about ending a relationship?

3. Are 10,000 status updates a representative sample of all Facebook statuses?

4. Is there a lag time involved in reporting these changes? Monday, for example is the most popular day for announcing break-ups, not necessarily for break-ups occurring on that day. Do people immediately run to Facebook to tell the world that they have ended a relationship?

5. Does everyone initially “register” and then “unregister” a relationship on Facebook anyway?

The more I think about it, it is a big claim to make that “Facebook knows when you are going to break up” based on this data mining exercise.