Warning: People you know may be hazardous to your cognitive health

The friendship paradox states that your friends have more friends than you do, on average. This statistical curiosity leads to systematic biases in perception and self-assessment. In our ICWSM 2013 paper, “Friendship Paradox Redux: Your Friends are More Interesting Than You,” we reveal that, not surprisingly, this paradox also exists in the follower graph of Twitter, in a variety of incarnations. Not only are the people you follow more popular (have more followers) than you, but they are also better connected (follow more users) than you. At the same time, your followers are also more popular and better connected than you are, on average.

In addition to these, we discovered two new behavioral paradoxes on Twitter. First, people you follow receive more viral content than you, on average (virality paradox). Also, they are more active than you,  meaning they tweet more often, on average, than you do (activity paradox).

These paradoxes have surprising implications for active users who rely on Twitter to keep up with friends and spread information to their followers.

Your friends see more valuable content than you do: Due to their better connectivity, people you follow tend to receive more valuable information, or at least information that ends up spreading farther, than you do.

Friendship Paradox Redux

Distribution of average popularity of information seen by overloaded and non-overloaded Twitter users. Popularity of information is defined as the number of people who have tweeted about it. Overloaded users tend to see only information that becomes popular.

Information overload: The more people you follow, the more information you will receive.  Due to the activity paradox, however, the volume of new information increases ever faster as you follow more people.  Because your ability to digest new information is limited, you risk becoming overloaded with content.

The last to know: Overloaded people tend to see only popular information that have been tweeted by many people they follow. They also risk missing updates from friends.

In order to absorb the content in their Twitter feeds, users will have to be more selective about whom they follow, and systematically refuse new “who to follow” suggestions Twitter makes. Conversely, to make themselves heard above the noise, users will either have to drown out the competition, exacerbating the problem, or find direct paths to users with the fewest friends—those who are most likely to see information in their feed and absorb it.

For more, see our fullpaper, Friendship Paradox Redux: Your Friends are More Interesting Than You.

Nathan O. Hodas, Information Sciences Institute, USC
Farshad Kooti, Information Sciences Institute, USC
Kristina Lerman, Information Sciences Institute, USC