Our recent study on social media concluded that how people connect across Facebook closely follows patterns of bilateral trade and migration between nations.
The study by our bd4d team built on the Social Connectedness Index concept introduced by Michael Bailey (the team lead for economics research at Facebook) and others. In 2017, Bailey et al studied Facebook “friend” links between counties in the United States and discovered that these links seemed to track trade and historical waves of migration.
Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, Sriganesh Lokanathan and Rohan Samarajiva expanded this analysis to the world. It compared Facebook “friend” links between over 230 nations with World Bank data on years of bilateral goods and services trade and United Nations estimates of migrant populations. Analysis revealed very high correlations between these values: in almost all cases higher trade and higher numbers of migrant stock were mirrored by corresponding higher “friend” links.
In their paper, the authors posited that the study of Facebook friend links could thus be of great value in imputing or validating trade and migration data – especially in cases where the data has not been gathered yet, or is unreliable.
This research was presented in October at the 46thResearch Conference on Communications, Information and Internet Policy (TPRC 46) in Washington, DC. The authors discussed further exploratory analysis, conducted using community detection algorithms (Blondel, 2008), which suggested that this Facebook data also tended to capture surprisingly accurate pictures of the current political climate in international relations.
For example, a current topic of debate is the political effectiveness of the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Corporation) and BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation). In the SAARC, political tensions between Pakistan and India have led to rapidly deteriorating relations within the bloc. These tensions are captured by the Facebook data: Pakistan and Afghanistan sort themselves out into a different community, as does Nepal, caught between China and India, while the bulk of SAARC countries lump themselves together.
The slideset from the TPRC presentation is here.