Thursday, August 12, 2021

The Geography of Facebook Friends

The Swiss newspaper Neue Z├╝rcher Zeitung has been busy mapping out where people's Facebook's friends live. The interactive maps in How friendships on Facebook are redrawing the Swiss borders allow you to see the geographical connections made on Facebook in each of Switzerland's 26 cantons. 

Enter the name of a canton into NZZ's map and you can view a choropleth visualization of where people in that canton have the most Facebook friends. For example the people in Zurich mostly have friends in the neighboring cantons, but also a lot of Zurich residents have Facebook friends in Portugal and southern Italy.

Where people have connections on Facebook is often related to where they grew up. They often have lots of connections to family members and childhood friends. Therefore NZZ's map can be read partly as an analogue of a migration map. The third biggest immigrant community in Switzerland is Portuguese. Therefore Portugal appears on a lot of the individual canton maps of Facebook friends.A lot of Swiss immigrants also come from the neighboring countries of Germany and Italy, so these two countries also feature on many of the individual canton maps. Internal migration in Switzerland is made most often to neighboring or nearby cantons. Therefore most of the canton maps show that the most Facebook connections are to neighboring cantons.


Three years ago the New York Times made a very similar interactive map, showing where people in the USA have connections on Facebook. The How Connected Is Your Community to Everywhere Else in America? interactive map visualizes the connections people have on Facebook and comes to the conclusion that we are much more likely to know people who live near us than those who live a long way away.

Hover over a county on the NYT map and you can immediately see a choropleth view showing the likelihood of people in other US counties being connected on Facebook to any of the selected county's residents. The speed of the map is impressive. If you move your mouse around the map you can instantly see how this close zone of friendship on Facebook plays out across the whole of the United States.

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