Why Your Social Media Friends Have More Friends Than You

Woman smiling down at her phoneOn most social media platforms, your online connections are probably more popular than you are. Users’ friends also tend to post more, have more influence, and receive more feedback on their posts, according to research published in PLOS One.

The culprit, according to the study, is the hierarchical nature of social media networks and relationships. Popular users rarely follow people less popular than them. Instead, a social media user might follow a friend with a larger number of connections. That friend, in turn, may then follow a local celebrity with even more connections, and the local celebrity may follow a national celebrity with millions of connections. In this scenario, each individual user is left with friends who have a wider reach than they do.

Why Social Media Users ‘Friend’ People with More Friends

A so-called friendship paradox can affect relationships on social media, according to the study. This paradox suggests most people think they are funnier, smarter, and more popular than their friends, but most social media users actually have fewer connections compared to their friends. The paradox holds for about 90% of social media users.

To explore this paradox, researchers worked with two data sets of posts to Twitter. The first contained more than 470 million tweets by 18 million users, including more than 20% of tweets posted over seven months beginning in June 2009. A second data set included all links between users who joined Twitter before August 2009, including 5.8 million users, 193 million links, and 200 million tweets. Repeat tweets were discarded, allowing researchers to look only at original tweets.

The results showed social media relationships are often hierarchical. Rather than simply allowing mutual friends to share information with one another, social media relationships are often about following popular people. Not all users follow celebrities, though. Instead, the results showed a user with hundreds of followers is more likely to follow one with thousands, while a user with thousands of followers might follow a user with millions of followers.

The study notes the number of followers or connections is not always the best measure of influence on social media, because the most popular users may be inundated with information. Instead, the most influential users are often those whose posts are shared by their social media connections, and those whose posts garner a high response rate.

References:

  1. Momeni, N., & Rabbat, M. (2016). Qualities and inequalities in online social networks through the lens of the generalized friendship paradox. PLOS One, 11(2). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0143633
  2. Your friends have more friends than you do. (2016, May 18). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160518170436.htm

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  • Lonnie

    Lonnie

    May 23rd, 2016 at 10:30 AM

    Everyone I know has more friends than what I have online but I finally figured out that the people who are befriending everyone are only doing that to gain more friends. That it really isn’t about how many people they are actually friends with in real life, online friendships are like some kind of alternative reality or something.

  • Otis

    Otis

    May 23rd, 2016 at 2:29 PM

    social media…
    just another way to make me feel bad about the things that I don’t have

  • Cate

    Cate

    May 24th, 2016 at 10:31 AM

    This is why I do not follow any celebrities on social media. I am not their friend and to follow them just gives them way more importance in society than what they typically deserve to have. If I am friends with you in the real world then you are the folks that I am going to pay attention to alone. If I wouldn’t know you in person, then we are not online buddies.

  • Hannah

    Hannah

    May 25th, 2016 at 10:28 AM

    I am so burned out with social media these days. People are posting things and expecting you to believe that they have these great lives and all it does is make them into a big fat liar and make the rest of us think that we must be pretty darn bring. I will share the occasional thought or photo, but for the most part I find myself drifting back to just communicating with friends and family the old fashioned way.

  • stace

    stace

    May 28th, 2016 at 1:22 PM

    Could be that they are really shallow and send a friend request to anyone and everyone and then see who bites

  • Anthony

    Anthony

    May 29th, 2016 at 2:56 PM

    I must be pretty low on the social media hierarchy. Oh well such is life. Someone has to be on the bottom of the pyramid.

  • ryan

    ryan

    May 30th, 2016 at 3:52 PM

    This is something that could have bothered me very much when I was younger
    but as I am not an ADULT, do I even care?
    Emphatically no

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