The Matthew effect, also known as the "accumulative advantage" or "rich get richer" effect, is a term coined by sociologist Robert K. Merton to describe a phenomenon where individuals or groups that are already advantaged in some way (such as having wealth, power, or prestige) are more likely to receive additional advantages or benefits, while those who are disadvantaged tend to fall further behind. The effect is named after a verse in the Bible's Gospel of Matthew, which states: "For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away." The Matthew effect can occur in many different contexts, such as education, sports, and economics.
For example, in education, students who start with higher levels of achievement are often given more opportunities for enrichment, such as advanced courses or extracurricular activities, which further enhance their advantage. In turn, these students are more likely to succeed and be recognized for their achievements, which can lead to even more opportunities and rewards. Meanwhile, students who start with lower levels of achievement may be denied access to these opportunities, which can make it harder for them to catch up and compete with their more advantaged peers. This can create a cycle of inequality that is difficult to break.
In the context of an online community, the Matthew effect can manifest in a number of ways. For example, users who are already well-known or popular within the community may receive more attention and engagement on their posts, while new or lesser-known users may struggle to get noticed. This can create a barrier to entry for new users, making it harder for them to establish themselves within the community and gain the same level of recognition as more established members. In addition, online communities that rely on metrics such as likes, followers, or upvotes to determine popularity or visibility may exacerbate the Matthew effect, as users with more followers or upvotes are more likely to be recommended to others or appear higher in search results. This can make it even harder for new or less popular users to break through and gain visibility within the community.