It seems we're all into some really weird stuff. The New York Times wrote a story Tuesday about how Facebook labels your political leanings as liberal, moderate or conservative based on things you do while you're on the social network. If you like a Facebook page related to Hillary Clinton, for example, Facebook might naturally assume that you lean liberal.
Similarly, Facebook's algorithm will try to learn things about you based on other things you like and seemingly unrelated actions on their platform. For example, as the Times story points out, if you like the page for Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Facebook might count that as a point in your "liberal" column, because the company itself is outspokenly pro-Democrat. Companies (and political campaigns, as it turns out) can then use this information to buy Facebook ads targeted specifically at, for example, people who identify as conservative, or people who have an interest in pro football.
But the story also shed light on some genuinely bizarre perceived interests that Facebook thinks we have. (Mine, for example, include "dental floss," "forced disappearance" and "elm" — as in the tree.)
Basically, to see your perceived political leaning, you go to facebook.com/ads/preferences, go to the "Interests" heading, choose "Lifestyle and culture," look for a box that says "US Politics" and there'll be a parenthetical reference to how Facebook categorized you politically.
But then you keep clicking around under that and other categories and suddenly you're down a rabbit hole to a world in which you love "lunch box," "positron emission photography" and "death grip." (This is along with other things that you probably are interested in, like "silence.")
If you hover over a topic, Facebook will try to tell you why the topic is there, but it's generally not very enlightening. For example, GuideLive's geek critic Britton Peele found that he is apparently interested in "frequent international travelers." Facebook's answer to why it thinks he's interested in that topic is only "You have this preference because we think it may be relevant to you based on what you do on Facebook." Which does not, as you might imagine, answer the question in a satisfying manner.
Peele is also supposedly interested in "goblin," (as in the mythical fantasy creature) and Facebook says this is "because you clicked on an ad related to goblin." We were not aware that goblins advertised on Facebook, but maybe Gringott's Wizarding Bank is struggling to pick up new business these days.
Fortunately, removing something from your ad preferences is pretty simple, you just hover over the box for it and hit the X to remove it.
Here's what a couple of our coworkers ended up with:
"Not only am I into 'insect repellent,' I'm also into 'mosquito" - Luke Morris
"Umm, 'wood flooring' and 'non-stick surface'" - Tiney Ricciardi
"'Slipknot discography'" - Tom Steele
"FB has me pegged as very into Greek mythology and 'Hades' in particular" - Dom DiFurio
"Klingon, alcove, emporium (Bangkok), sales and away from family" - Holly Rusak
"Hula hoop, Turkish language, waste and Dominican Order" - Shannon Sutlief
"Facebook pegged me as interested in Jainism, ministry (government department), away from hometown, vibraphone, inflatables and wet season" - Naomi Martin
GuideLive writer Britton Peele contributed to this very important report.