People with more Facebook friends are less likely to give to charity, research suggests

Kimberley Scharf at the University of Warwick says some social network users rely on other people to donate

Kimberley Scharf, professor of economics at the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy at the University of Warwick
Kimberley Scharf, professor of economics at the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy at the University of Warwick

People with a lot of Facebook friends are less likely to share information about charities and donate money to good causes, a research report suggests.

Kimberley Scharf, professor of economics at the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy at the University of Warwick, argues in a theoretical research paper that when people have larger online social networks, they rely on other people to pass on information about opportunities to give. This phenomenon is called ‘free-riding’.

In her paper Private Provision of Public Goods and Information Diffusion in Social Groups,  she says that people with a large network of friends may even rely on others to donate.

"Information transmission about giving opportunities is undermined by free-riding incentives – I count on other neighbours to convey information and so save on the effort of doing it myself," she said. "As well as relying on others to pass on information, it may also be true that people are even relying on others to donate."

Scharf said her study shows that people who have smaller, closer-knit groups of friends tend to give more to good causes than those who have formed large loosely connected groups. 

"Economists have traditionally viewed giving as an individual choice," said Scharf. "It is time for a rethink – we are long overdue in asking questions about how social connections shape giving because the answers are important. The answers are important, they will help us understand how better to target private and public resources aimed at promoting giving."

Facebook declined to comment on the study.    

Scharf will present her research paper at the International Institute of Public Finance's 2012 Congress, Germany, on 16 August, and hopes to work with the website JustGiving to test out her theory.

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