Right back at you: Facebook riposte to Princeton claim

Facebook data scientists turn the tables on Princeton researchers in response to paper

Facebook has turned the tables on a Princeton University report predicting the platform's imminent demise by forecasting the learning institution will itself be emptied of students within a few years.

In a blog post titled 'Debunking Princeton,' Facebook data scientist Mike Develin and colleagues Lada Adamic and Sean Taylor used the same methodology as the Princeton researchers to demonstrate that the university "may be in danger of disappearing entirely" in just of a few years.

A paper by Princeton researchers John Cannarella and Joshua Spechler compared the growth curve of epidemics to those of online social networks and predicted Facebook will lose 80 per cent of users by 2017.

By way of response Mr Develin wrote: "Of particular interest was the innovative use of Google search data to predict engagement trends, instead of studying the actual engagement trends."


“Using the same robust methodology featured in the paper, we attempted to find out more about this “Princeton University” - and you won’t believe what we found!”

A search of Google's index of published scholarly articles recorded a dramatic fall in articles matching the query "Princeton" since 2009, the blog reported.

Facebook researchers found a "strong correlation" between the undergraduate enrolment of an institution and its presence on the Google Trends index.

In Princeton's case, the blog found a decline in search scores.

The Facebook blog identified a trend that shows Princeton will not only have just half of its current enrolment by 2018 but will be emptied entirely by 2021.

“This trend suggests that Princeton will have only half its current enrolment by 2018, and by 2021 it will have no students at all, agreeing with the previous graph of scholarly scholarliness.

“Based on our robust scientific analysis, future generations will only be able to imagine this now-rubble institution that once walked this earth,” Mr Develin wrote.

The tongue-in-cheek blog suggested that not only with the university be emptied by 2021 but that, rather worryingly, there will be no air left to breathe on Earth by 2060.

“While we are concerned for Princeton University, we are even more concerned about the fate of the planet — Google Trends for “air” have also been declining steadily, and our projections show that by the year 2060 there will be no air left”

Facebook acknowledging the latest research has not been peer-reviewed:

“Although this research has not yet been peer-reviewed, every Like for this post counts as a peer review. Start reviewing!”

In a somewhat conciliatory post script, the Facebook researchers said:

“PS. We don’t really think Princeton or the world’s air supply is going anywhere soon. We love Princeton (and air). As data scientists, we wanted to give a fun reminder that not all research is created equal – and some methods of analysis lead to pretty crazy conclusions.”

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí is an Irish Times journalist and editor of the Irish Times Student Hub