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A fan of God?

What Facebook is trying to tell us.


In Arkansas, we love us some God. More Arkansans subscribe to God's Facebook fan page than any other entity. Even the Razorbacks come second. What else are we fans of? Starbucks coffee is a big one, as are Freeze Pops (like Flavor-Ice and Otter Pops), Michael Jackson, Kris Allen, Farmville and “I need a vacation.”

This is all according to an enormous set of Facebook user data that tracks information about where people's friends are and what they're fans of. The data was compiled over the last six months by Pete Warden, an ex-Apple engineer who thinks there's got to be some kind of use for all the information people are posting about themselves on Facebook. In an article published by the site Read, Write, Web, Warden explained why he took on the venture.

“Nobody thinks about how much valuable information they're generating just by friending people and fanning pages. It's like we're constantly voting in a hundred different ways every day. And I'm a starry-eyed believer that we'll be able to change the world for the better using that neglected information,” Warden says.

According to a preliminary look at the data, some interesting patterns do emerge. For one, God tends to be the top fan page in the South (except for Texas, where the Cowboys come first). In northern states, more people are fans of sports and beer-related pages. One thing that most states have in common, though, is a love of Freeze Pops, which actually have more fans than the Lord Almighty when you look at Facebook as a whole.

It's a lot of data to go through and the important question is, what is it telling us about ourselves? Donna Bowman, associate director of the Honors College at the University of Central Arkansas, a theologian and a pop culture junkie, says fan pages are kind of like identity badges.

“I would jump at the opportunity to become a fan of a frozen treat,” Bowman says, “because I might get something out of being a fan of Otter Pops. They might give me a coupon. I'm not sure, but does God communicate back with you on Facebook?”

He doesn't. But it's easy, she says, for people to be fans of God because it's such a pervasive part of the culture here in the South. It also has to do with one's radius. One thing Warden's data show is that, in Arkansas, most of our Facebook friends live within a fairly small radius — think Texas, Louisiana and Missouri. People who live in bigger cities and on the coasts tend to have friends in farther away places.

“That makes sense, too,” Bowman says, “because people move to the coasts and to major urban areas and they take their Facebook friends with them. In the South, there's less major industry, less entertainment, or whatever. So people move from there, but not necessarily to there. Or if they're from there, they might just stay. They're not dragging along their Facebook friends from before because there's no before.”

Warden made his data set available to academia for research purposes this week, so it remains to be seen exactly what kind of conclusions scholars may draw from it. Like some of the things noted above, it's going to tell us a lot of things we'd expect.

For example, people who are fans of the Arkansas Times are also fans of Barack Obama, Starbucks, Rock Candy, Vic Snyder and NPR. Fans of Sen. Gilbert Baker are more likely to be fans of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and the Family Council.

The data might also explain some political behaviors and what we might expect in the future. For example, you can list your political affiliation on Facebook. So it will be interesting to see if there are any major political differences in terms of age. Arkansas is a pretty conservative state. Palin fans far outnumber those of Obama. But is that true for younger Arkansans?

“What I would like to know about is the ways in which the data is more diverse than you might expect and I would imagine there are places where it is,” Bowman says. “I imagine there are some instances where the stereotypes don't hold true in some pretty surprising ways.”

We'll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, please follow our Arkansas Times fan page. That will tell others you're cultured, well-read, intelligent and also a latte-drinking hippy socialist.


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