More Facebook Friends Equal Fewer Donations

A Published study says that people with larger numbers of Facebook friends tend not to spread the news about charities and causes. Study author Kimberley Scharf an economist at the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) at the University of Warwick, says that people with lots of Facebook friends tend to count on others to tell them about opportunities for giving. This phenomenon has a name: “free-riding.”

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Professor Scharf goes even further by suggesting that not only do we expect others to tell us about opportunities for giving, but we may even depend on them to give money in our stead. Scharf presented her findings in Dresden in August 2012, under the heading, Private Provision of Public Goods and Information Diffusion in Social Groups. The work describes an economic model in which individuals have friends in common in various overlapping social networking spheres.

“For example, with Facebook I have friends and my friends have friends. I wanted to see if the number of social connections individuals have affects the way that information about quality of charity provision is diffused, and if it does, what the implications are for total giving,” said Scharf.

Counting on Friends

Prof. Scharf found that the transmission of information about opportunities for giving is undermined by free-riding, in which some people count on other social networking buddies to give them information so they don’t have to go to the trouble of finding it themselves. If, as a result of such free-riding, there is less information disseminated regarding which charities are most worthy or effective, then it’s possible that donations will not go to the charities that perform best. This could mean a resultant loss of charitable works or services performed. Scharf feels that in addition to counting on others to tell us about charities, we may also end up counting on them to give donations so we don’t have to.

Backing up these results is Scharf’s finding that smaller social networks with tighter bonds and shared interests tend to give more money to charity. “This is what matters, the closeness of social interactions: large loosely connected groups share information less effectively than smaller, better integrated groups,” said Scharf.

The economist further explained that her field has always viewed giving as a choice made by individuals. But social networking is forcing economists to reconsider how our social connections affect the act of giving. The data generated by this closer look at the effects of social networking on giving may help charities to more effectively market themselves by helping them understand how to target various resources that promote donations.

Scharf also notes that more social interaction may not be a positive advance for giving. When lots of people share information, there can be a tendency

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