Social Influence and Reciprocity in Online Gift Giving

Computer Human Interaction (CHI)


Giving gifts is a fundamental part of human relationships that is being affected by technology. The Internet enables people to give at the last minute and over long distances, and to observe friends giving and receiving gifts. How online gift giving spreads in social networks is therefore important to understand. We examine 1.5 million gift exchanges on Facebook and show that receiving a gift causes individuals to be 56% more likely to give a gift in the future. Additional surveys show that online gift giving was more socially acceptable to those who learned about it by observing friends’ participation instead of a non-social encouragement. Most receivers pay the gift forward instead of reciprocating directly online, although surveys revealed additional instances of direct reciprocity, where the initial gifting occurred offline. Thus, social influence promotes the spread of online gifting, which both complements and substitutes for offline gifting.

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