Researcher Kristina Lerman and her pals at the University of Southern California show that social networks tend to make certain things appear more common then they really are. They call it the majority illusion, or "the local impression that a specific attribute is common when the global truth is entirely different."

When popular people with huge networks post or share something, that content is likely to become seemingly common to people within that network. “Under some conditions, even a minority opinion can appear to be extremely popular locally,” say Lerman and co. This also explains why teenagers very often overestimate the amount of alcohol and drugs their friends consume. “If heavy drinkers also happen to be more popular, then people examining their friends’ drinking behavior will conclude that, on average, their friends drink more than they do,” say Lerman and co.

The majority illusion is similar to what theorists call the friendship paradox, where it looks like you have a lot less friends than most of your friends do, when really its just that your most visible friends are those that have the largest networks. In other words, everyone seems more popular you than you, but really, you're only looking at the most popular kids.

Cover image: YouTube