Don’t Stress if Your Friends have More Online “Friends” than You Do

New research should be reassuring as it provides a scientific explanation for why it is close to impossible to have more “friends” or “followers” as compared to those who follow you on social media sites.

Naghmeh Momeni Taramsari, a Ph.D. student in Electrical and Computer Engineering at McGill University, studied the social network environment and explains that it is all due to the inherently hierarchical nature of social media networks. She found that this environment — in the social hierarchy of connections — people mostly either follow up or across; they rarely follow down.

Her study has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.

“Most people tend to think that they are better than their friends when it comes to intelligence, memory, popularity, and other personal traits,” says Taramsari.

“However, a recent study by other researchers shows that this perception is false, at least in the context of online social networks.

In reality, our friends really have more friends than we do, on average. Moreover, our friends are more active (post more material), and are more influential (their posts are viewed and passed on more often). This is known as the Generalized Friendship Paradox.”

In the new study, McGill researchers set out to discover to what extent the friendship paradox is present in the online social network Twitter, and how exactly it is reflected in the network structure (as in, who follows whom).

In case you are starting to feel discouraged about it, don’t worry.

After using new methods to measure user influence and the extent to which the Generalized Friendship Paradox exists in social networks researchers concluded that almost all users (up to 90 per cent of us) experience this paradox — even those with relatively high levels of activity and influence.

That’s because people at any level of activity and influence tend to follow others who are more active and influential than themselves, according to Prof. Michael Rabbat, the senior author on the paper.

“Social networks do not simply comprise a few ultra-popular people with tens of millions of followers, followed by the masses, and who themselves only follow a few others,” says Rabbat.

“Rather, Twitter is hierarchical in the following sense: those who have millions of connections mostly follow others with million connections. Those with thousands of connections mostly follow others with thousands or millions of connections.

Those with a few connections follows others with few, thousands, or millions of connections. Apparently, it’s just the way we’re connected.”

Therefore connecting with “popular” friends means that we will be in the minority. Or, put another way, in the end, even online, it’s because we all want to be friends with the popular kids.

Source: McGill University