Benford’s Law Applies to Online Social Networks

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Golbeck J (2015) Benford’s Law Applies to Online Social Networks. PLoS ONE 10(8): e0135169. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0135169


Benford’s Law states that, in naturally occurring systems, the frequency of numbers’ first digits is not evenly distributed. Numbers beginning with a 1 occur roughly 30%of the time, and are six times more common than numbers beginning with a 9.We show that Benford’s Law applies to social and behavioral features of users in online social networks. Using social data from five major social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest, and LiveJournal), we show that the distribution of first significant digits of friend and follower counts for users in these systems follow Benford’s Law. The same is true for the number of posts users make.We extend this to egocentric networks, showing that friend counts among the people in an individual’s social network also follows the expected distribution. We discuss how this can be used to detect suspicious or fraudulent activity online and to validate datasets.


Funding for Open Access provided by the UMD Libraries Open Access Publishing Fund.