When scrolling through your social media feeds, it can feel like everyone else’s posts get more likes than yours. But that can’t be true, right? Well, according to new research published in the journal PLOS ONE, there’s a weird reason behind this phenomenon: Your friends actually are more popular on social media than you are—and this is true whether you have 10 friends or 10 thousand followers.
Researchers from McGill University say it’s all due to something called the Generalized Friendship Paradox, which means no matter how intelligent, smart, or popular you think you are, your online friends will be all that and more: they post more material, get more likes, and are generally more influential.
Study authors analyzed the data of over 470 million tweets and 18 million users over seven months. They also looked at the ways in which users were connected. Of these users and tweets, 5.8 million users were connected in over 193 million ways.
The data showed that almost all users (up to 90 percent) had something in common: They only followed people who were equally or more active and influential. People rarely followed others with less clout. Instead, they followed people who were more influential and popular. Researchers say this holds true for Facebook, too.
“Social networks do not simply comprise a few ultra-popular people with tens of millions of followers, followed by the masses, and who themselves only follow a few others,” Michael Rabbat, senior study author, said in a statement. “Rather, Twitter is hierarchical in the following sense: those who have millions of connections mostly follow others with millions of connections. Those with thousands of connections mostly follow others with thousands or millions of connections. Those with a few connections follows others with few, thousands, or millions of connections. Apparently, it’s just the way we’re connected.”