A well known paradox of social structure first proposed by Scott Feld is that “your friends have more friends than you, on average”. This effect has been studied in relation to twitter users, where it appears to be even more universal, as it holds for 98% of users! Not only people you follow (on average) have more followers than you, but people that follow you have more followers than you! They are also more active than you! This seems counterintuitive but arises out of the skewed distribution of connections within social groups. It is also linked to a perception bias since on average most of us are connected to some super connector alters. Researchers suggest it also leads to a cognitive overload as we are unable to process the information cascades generated.
But do we consciously surround ourselves with alters that are more popular than we are? And would this imply that the dominant social strategy is seeking connections with others that are inherently more powerful? If true, would that imply we are predisposed to reinforce hierarchical social structure?
Maybe in the age of social media and digital citizenship we should consider this to be a hyper-connectivity paradox. As a participant at a networks workshop recently suggested, new ways of connecting affect our politics and civic engagement. And while my thoughts on the use of social media in political constest have not substantially changed, I caught myself thinking that the way we interact with one another is qualitatively changing. So, if we are indeed shifting our preferences from conducting personal to conducting online transactions and the volume of these transactions is increasing, it should not be a surprise that the friendship paradox is exagerated in online media.