It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“New research suggests the more friends we have on Facebook, the less likely we are to share information about charitable causes. … When we have larger online social networks, we rely on other people to pass on information about opportunities to give. This phenomenon is called ‘free riding’. [The researcher] also suggests we may even rely on others to donate.” (“Too Many Facebook Friends Bad News For Charities, Research Suggests”; Science Daily 8/6/2011)
This is not good people. More friends should mean more giving – more friends running marathons for charities, volunteering with do-gooder organizations, and raising awareness of worthy causes. But alas, it’s a bit of Kitty Genovese bystander effect (remember social psych class?) — we all think others are spreading the word and donating, so we don’t make an effort ourselves.
Well, wrong. Huge social networks are actually having the opposite effect. The work of Kimberly Scharf, the professor behind this study, found that, in the long run, “there is more giving in smaller, closer-knit groups of individuals who share common interests.”
We all know that social networks hold a lot of power—one post on a Facebook wall and you can speak to hundreds (thousands!) of followers—and usually when that power is harnessed for good, that’s when it gets lots of press. I love checking out the Twitter Stories site to find tweets that changed the world. It’s less interesting to talk about when social networks prevent good from getting done. But if Scharf is right, that’s sometimes the case.
So for now, I’m using this social media platform to encourage you to do good. You could donate to Big Brothers Big Sisters, the organization that set me up with the 11-year-old Little Bro that Matt and I mentor. Or you could donate to the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, where my BFF Callie is the development director. Or give to Be The Match and the National Marrow Donor Program, the organization that my dear friend Ann has volunteered with for years. She’s even heading their Tribute to 25 Years and 50,000 Transplants in Minneapolis in September.
Friends and giving should go hand — even if those friends are just the Facebook kind.
Admit it: Have you ever fallen prey to this “free riding” effect? Feeling inspired to give today?