Huge networks like Google and Facebook inspire many scientists to model interactions between people. Posts can go ‘viral’ and grow to pandemic proportions in a few hours; today’s infectious diseases spread faster through social media than in real life. These networks can also help with real diseases and to that end Google monitors the internet for flu-like symptoms and publishes its data in Google Flu Trends, the results of which several scientists confirmed the correlation with reality in scientific journals. Lada Adamic from Facebook Data Science, took it a bit further and studied the evolution of memes and how they adapt to different communities. Memes can be ideas, political statements, and thoughts, and people post them on their timeline to inspire their connections. Friends copy the meme but sometimes change it slightly so it better fits their own audience. In that way Facebook posts develop and change over time, the best memes survive and get copied, some mutations are less fruitful and slowly fade away. It seems almost an analog to Darwin’s survival of the fittest and Dawkins’ selfish gene theory. For the research, Adamic used the following statement that was posted by 470,000 Facebook users in exactly the same way:
“No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, post this as your status for the rest of the day”.
Soon people started to adapt the meme to fit their own community, in the end producing at least 121,605 different variants of this particular meme which appeared in 1.14 million status updates. They also looked into the virulence of a post, focusing on which elements give a post more power to survive. Replication instructions as: “Please post this as,” and more directive (cancerous) phrases like: “Paste if you agree” gave a post more evolutionary advantage. One of the problems they encountered during their study was the introduction of the share button, which made it possible to share status updates without editing. According to the study, at least before the share button was introduced, “Facebook was the perfect petri dish to observe the evolution of transmitted information.” Now make this post go viral, please share!
Facebook: The evolution of memes on Facebook
Scientific paper: Information Evolution in Social Networks…