What Facebook’s 5 degrees of separation means for the spread of news

Facebook | The New York Times

A new study of all Facebook users worldwide shows that the oft-cited "six degrees of separation" is more like five — or more precisely 4.74, the average number of connections between any two users. “It’s the weak ties that make the world small," says Jon Kleinberg, one of the researchers. The findings should spur people to think about what kinds of information spreads on those weak connections, he says. "Those people I met on vacation, if they send me some cool news, I might send that to my friends. If they send me something about a protest movement, I might not.” The study also shows the potential global reach of citizen journalists, even those who don't have much of a following. Though the study found that "84 percent of all connections are between users in the same country," in May, I learned that just eight people separated me and Sohaib Athar, the man who tweeted the sounds of the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abottabad, Pakistan, although he had just 750 or so followers on Twitter. “We are close, in a sense, to people who don’t necessarily like us, sympathize with us or have anything in common with us,” Kleinberg says. On average, people have 190 Facebook friends.

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of Poynter.org until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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