How Many Facebook Users ‘Pay It Forward?’


PayItForwardZone650Odds are, most Facebook users have seen status updates in their News Feeds with some variation of the “pay it forward” theme, meaning that if a stranger or friend shows a person kindness in some form, the recipient does something nice for someone else. But which countries and cities were responsible for the most pay-it-forward status updates? Lada Adamic and Thomas Lento of the Facebook Data Science Team have the answers.

According to an analysis of anonymized data from some 815,000 pay-it-forward-related posts between Dec. 29 and Jan. 31 — with 97 percent of them following comments on other pay-it-forward posts — the 11 countries with 10,000 or more posts of this type were:

  1. U.S.: 517,728
  2. Canada: 66,475
  3. U.K.: 56,740
  4. Australia: 45,852
  5. Germany: 38,333
  6. France: 29,610
  7. Spain: 25,185
  8. Argentina: 16,332
  9. Netherlands: 13,393
  10. New Zealand: 11,456
  11. South Africa: 10,647

And the top 20 cities were:

  1. London: 8,901
  2. Melbourne, Australia: 6,860
  3. Sydney: 6,398
  4. Chicago: 6,248
  5. Toronto: 5,179
  6. New York: 5,175
  7. Los Angeles: 5,012
  8. Brisbane, Australia: 5,008
  9. Madrid: 4,062
  10. Atlanta: 3,824
  11. Houston: 3,750
  12. Perth, Australia: 3,497
  13. Portland, Ore.: 3,311
  14. Auckland, New Zealand: 3,160
  15. San Diego: 3,058
  16. Washington, D.C.: 2,979
  17. Buenos Aires, Argentina: 2,924
  18. Phoenix: 2,887
  19. Denver: 2,830
  20. Philadelphia: 2,807

Adamic and Lento offered further details on the findings by the Facebook Data Science Team:

First, in the two to three days preceding the new year, we see primarily English (blue), German (green), and French (red) variants, which arose seemingly independently, likely from an earlier spread of the cascade.


Over the following month, pay-it-forward chains circled the globe many times over, as can be seen from the visualization below. It shows an arc between two cities if several pay-it-forward ties bridged them.


It’s also fun to look at how the activity clusters by language as the meme develops. Because over the entire month of January, the English-language part of the cascade has grown too large to visualize, we instead show the non-English language part of the cascades with different language clusters clearly apparent.


To understand the reactions to the pay-it-forward meme, we looked, in aggregate, at words and phrases that were over-expressed in comments responding to the meme, as opposed to comments by the same group of individuals on other posts. Unsurprisingly, the most common and over-expressed expressions were: “I’m in!!!,” “dabei :) ,” “Me sumooo,” etc. There were interesting differences in language. In English, “address” is over-expressed (26 times/87 times), with the poster asking others to send “your address(es)” in a private message, so that the surprise gift can be sent. But in Spanish and Italian, “una/la visita” is over-expressed (32 times/24 times), indicating that the gift may be delivered in person. Finally, many expressed enthusiasm about the idea: “awesome/wonderful idea” (25 times), “good karma” (25 times), “buena iniciativa” (83 times).

By the end of March, the cascade had quieted down, but not before close to 900,000 people committed to pay it forward and give small surprise gifts to their friends during the year.

Readers: Have you seen or shared any pay-it-forward posts on Facebook?

Image of pay it forward zone sign courtesy of Shutterstock.