Here's How To Get Around The 'Free Riding' Effect On Social Media

Keiran McPherson of New Zealand on the swim leg of the Sovereign Tri Series Tinman triathlon in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand. Joel Ford/Getty Images

People in small groups on social media are more likely to donate to charity than those with lots of digital friends, according a study by a UK economist.

The main driver of this is “free-riding”, which means that people feel less of a need to share information about well performing charities when they are one of a large group.

These people think others will share the information so they don’t bother to do it themselves. And they expect others to give most of the cash and so they don’t dig in their pockets.

Economist Kimberley Scharf of the University of Warwick analysed data from and found a negative correlation between the size of a group and the amount of money given by each donor.

“The problem is that everyone thinks the same thing and therefore the actual amount of money that’s donated is less than it would have been had fewer friends been asked in the first place,” Professor Scharf says.

But she also discovered that the amount a person can raise doesn’t only depend on the number of friends they have online. Those who complete tougher fundraising activities generate more cash.

The researchers think donors might get a more intense warm glow when the fundraiser exerts more effort.

“Whilst running is by far the most popular event on JustGiving, it is in fact individuals who complete triathlons that typically attract the largest number of donations and raise the most money in total,” she says.

“So doing something physically demanding and asking a small group of friends for their support is much more effective than relying on donations from lots of people for what would be perceived as a relatively less exerting activity.”

The results of the study are published in the journal International Economic Review.

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