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Facebook may have answer to whether race affects friendship

October 28, 2010 |  3:06 pm

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Facebook inspires many questions (and some answers) among users: Who is friends with whom? When is his birthday? Who attended what party on which weekend?

Now researchers are using the social-networking site to answer a perennial query: Is race a big factor in choosing who to befriend?

The answer is, sort of, according to a joint study by UCLA and Harvard to be released next week. But factors such as geographic proximity and similar fields of study matter just as much, if not more.

According to the study, the odds of a bond forming between two Asian students are almost 31% more likely than between two students of different races. Among white students, the odds improve by almost 25%. Black and Latino students are twice as likely to befriend other students of the same race.

However, roommates regardless of race are almost seven times more likely to become friends, compared with students who live separately. And merely living in the same building with another student doubles your odds of becoming buddies with him or her.

The study -- which plumbed the Facebook profiles of 736 freshmen from an unnamed university in 2005 -- calculated friendships based on who was featured and tagged in photos uploaded to the site by students.

"If I uploaded and tagged a photo of you on Facebook and you then uploaded and tagged a photo of me on Facebook, then we would be reciprocal friends," said Andreas Wimmer, a UCLA professor of sociology and coauthor of the study. "Photos are interesting because they document real-life interactions, not just online ties like e-mails."

Students who uploaded photos without labeling anybody could have affected the results, he said. "There might be factors like laziness. That might be a problem."

Although, he added: "We assume that if people really care about someone, they would tag them in their pictures."

-- Shan Li

Photo: The homepage for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Credit: Karen Bleier / AFP/Getty Images

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