Here's How To See If Facebook Thinks You're A Democrat Or Republican

Every pic you take, every post you make: they'll be watching you.

While it should come as no surprise to anyone that you surrender a certain amount of privacy when you engage with social media, you might be surprised at just what kind of profiling emerges from each share or like or click. Websites always collect and process more personal data than you think. A recent article in the New York Times illustrates how Facebook analyzes American user activity on the site to classify your political position, even if you don't engage in political debates or disclose your affiliation.

That's right: Facebook can figure out your political leanings based on what you click and what you like.

Here's how you can take a look at how they classify you. This is best done on desktop.

Firstly, go to https://www.facebook.com/ads/preferences. Scroll down until you see the section called "Interests."

"Interests" used to be a very sterile-looking page called "Your Ad Preferences." Here's what it used  to look like: I took a screenshot of mine before it changed.

Here's what it looks like now. Much friendlier-looking, right?

Yes, I'm very interested in tragedy.
Yes, I'm very interested in tragedy.

Click the tab marked "Lifestyle and culture." 

Your political leaning — according to Facebook — will appear as one of the boxes. 

According to Facebook, I am a "moderate," though my colleagues might disagree. The Times reports that the other two possibilities are "liberal" and "conservative."

If you hover over the box, it generates a message that says "You have this preference because we think it may be relevant to you based on what you do on Facebook."

In other words, if you like Hillary Clinton's page on Facebook and identify as a Democrat, chances are Facebook will classify you as a liberal. But, as the Times' Jeremy Merrill points out, "Even if you do not like any candidates' pages, if most of the people who like the same pages that you do — such as Ben and Jerry's ice cream — identify as liberal, then Facebook might classify you as one, too."

It's still yet to be seen how Facebook ads and posts will effect the 2016 election, but in 2012, a digital "I Voted" button proved particularly effective at getting out the vote.

It also lets you see example ads, though when I clicked on that, all I got was a loading icon.

It's still yet to be seen how Facebook ads and posts will effect the 2016 election, but in 2012, a digital "I Voted" button proved particularly effective at getting out the vote.

To Facebook's credit, you can manage your ad preferences and delete irrelevant interests. The site notes, however, that even "if you remove all of your preferences you'll still see ads, but they may be less relevant to you." Interestingly, when the section was called "Your Ad Preferences," you could add your own preferences, but that feature seems to have disappeared.

The reason for all this is simple: money. Whether you're conscious of it or not, your interests and likes as expressed through actions on Facebook allow for advertisers to more accurately target you as part of a demographic. This includes political campaigns. The Times article notes, for example, that Donald Trump's presidential campaign has paid for ads to be shown to those classified as moderates. 

Internet security guru Bruce Schneier put it more bluntly: "we build systems that spy on people in exchange for services. Corporations call it marketing."

Cover image via Shutterstock / Jose Gil.

(H/T: New York Times)