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First Study of the Evolution of Memes On Facebook 56

KentuckyFC writes "The way memes evolve on Facebook is startlingly similar to the way genes evolve on Earth. That's conclusion of a team of researchers who have analyzed the evolution of thousands of memes that have appeared more than 460 million times on Facebook. The memes are ideas like: 'No one should die because they cannot afford health care and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree please post this as your status for the rest of the day,' which has been copied 470,000 times. However, the meme quickly mutated. A version that included the phrase '[Your Name] thinks that' appeared 60,000 times. And humorous versions appeared too: 'No one should be without beer because they cannot afford one.'

The team analyzed how often variants appeared and how different they were to the original to get a measure of each meme's evolution. It turns out that this evolution follows the same mathematical evolution, called the Yule Process, that genes follow. And there are other similarities too. There is a small but clear preference for variants that are shorter than the original memes. That's analogous to bacteria favoring small genomes because they allow fast replication. And the same advantageous sequences can appear in many different memes, probably transferred by a single individual from one meme to another. This process is analogous to lateral gene transfer in bacteria. There are some differences too. Evolution is a blind process in biology but not in social media there can be a conscious effort to create mutations that will spread more effectively. This leads to some memes evolving with very high replication rates that are not described by the Yule process. The team says the results should provide greater insight into the nature of information transfer in social networks. It also raises the interesting question of how far evolution might go when given a little time to play with memes."
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First Study of the Evolution of Memes On Facebook

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  • Evolution? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Evolution? That's just what God wants you to believe

    • If it's FaceBook it must be survival of the fattest
    • Did God design us to believe in Evolution?
      Or did Evolution breed us to believe in God?

      I prefer to believe that God designed us to believe that Evolution would breed us to believe in God designing us to believe in Evolution's ability to breed us to believe in God.

    • by Qwertie ( 797303 )
      Like many /. summaries, this one strikes me as attempting to grab eyeballs by digging up unjustified connotations. The "Yule Process" is little more than the well-known idea that the "rich get richer", though there's a particular formula associated with it. So it would be easier to understand and far more precise to say simply "popular memes tend to get more popular". So while the summary says meme evolution "follows the same mathematical evolution that genes follow", it would be more informative but less h
  • Another disproving of intelligent design. Cos intelligence is not something that could ever be said of any Facebook post that starts "Like/Share if you agree..."

    It has to be random and blind at a minimum. But ignorant, unfunny and stupid equally appears to help. Maybe that's where the comparison with evolving genes breaks down?

    • How can you disprove intelligent design? It might be the case that there's some unknown intelligent agent introducing all the mutations in our genes. Go ahead and try to prove there isn't. While you're at it, prove Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny don't exist.
      • by gsslay ( 807818 )

        I wasn't being entirely serious. It was more a critique of moronic Facebook posts designed to gather "likes" than anything else.

        Naturally I cannot disprove intelligent design. But when it comes to theories/ideas/concepts the burden lies with the proving, not the disproving.

      • Prove to me that the entire universe wasn't created 10 seconds ago with all the (fake) memories of the rest of our lives already in our heads, all the fossils already in the ground, even the genes in our bodies written to look like they had evolved, etc....

        Now show me a shred of evidence that it actually was created 10 seconds ago!

        Yeah.. it's like that...

      • by unitron ( 5733 )

        How can you disprove intelligent design?

        Go find a proponent of it and seize them with both of your hands.

        Now slap them silly with your third hand.

      • by pigiron ( 104729 )

        The real question should be: can you disprove Dark Matter?

    • I'm not sure how it proves/disproves Intelligent Design. I do think that it models ID closer than it does evolution. Here's why. When people talk about evolution, they're not just talking about species adapting and changing over time. I think most people believe that. They're also proposing the idea that all species originated from a single origin. That's where ID and evolution are different. So ID proponents would say that an Intelligent Designer (God, the Matrix programmers, etc...) created many different

      • When people talk about evolution, they're not just talking about species adapting and changing over time. I think most people believe that.

        Most? Perhaps, but just barely. "Forty-six percent of Americans believe in the creationist view that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years."

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Depends. If you look at a new meme as a "creation", then perhaps it does mentally model ID. If you look at a meme as a linguistic and/or grammatical mutation (which most are), then...not so much.

        ID (at least for me) breaks down at the genetics level. More specifically, when we identify genes in a nematode that are also found in vertebrates, that express the same basic function in such wildly different organisms...

        • As a software engineer, I would think that in an ID universe that genes would be shared among distinctly created lifeforms. I will often use similar design patterns and libraries for different applications. Identical code doesn't mean that a book library manager program evolved from a shoot-em-up video game, it just means that it has a common designer.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    All memes were created 6,000 hours ago. I read about it in this one livejournal.

  • by Ignacio ( 1465 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @12:41PM (#46428523)
    Am I doing it right?
  • Huh? cart horse (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cellocgw ( 617879 ) <> on Friday March 07, 2014 @12:42PM (#46428533) Journal

    I thought the reason the word "meme" was chosen was specifically because of the similarity between organic genetic evolution and evolution of terms on the internet. No?

    • Re:Huh? cart horse (Score:5, Informative)

      by oodaloop ( 1229816 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @12:51PM (#46428593)
      Came here to say this. Sort of. Richard Dawkins coined the word meme in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, which the article quotes. A meme is basically an idea, or concept, that replicates from host to host. An internet meme is just one kind of meme, but in common parlance has become just meme. But yeah, the word was created to show how ideas mutate and evolve like genes, so it shouldn't surprise us that they actually do. It's nice to see confirming evidence though, I guess.
  • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @12:43PM (#46428547)

    ${backwoodsTown} Mom discovers simple trick that makes ${enviedProfessional} hate her!

    One simple trick to ${doSomethingDesireable}!

    I remember the first time I saw each of those and now they're everywhere.

    • And they'll continue to proliferate until they saturate the market and some other version takes off. Just like, at one time, the "punch the monkey" style of banner ad was all the rage and could be found virtually everywhere.

    • by phorm ( 591458 )

      The sad part being that the actual advertisement is structured quite similar to the above. If you look at the actual code of the ads, there is actually a function/variable for the location.

      Usually it looks something like

      $GeoIPCity = getLocationByGeoIP();

      print "$GeoIPCity mom's simple trick to looking younger makes doctors hate her."

      I can't vouch for the veracity of the product/method being advertised, but given that it starts out with false advertising (as obviously the "mom" can't be from every city a pote

  • No one should die because they cannot afford health care and no one should go broke because they get sick.

    Which third-world countries are they talking about?

  • ...that studying gossip would be become a research area....
  • Humans are getting stupider the longer they spend on Facebook, so apparently this is genetic, and we are all doomed
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @01:03PM (#46428669)

    Such research.

    Much grants.

    So controversy.

    Plz no frost pist.

    Vry concern.

  • Is that they serve themselves, much like the 'selfishness' of genes. Some memes replicate because they're good for their group, e.g. leatherworking, tool use. Others replicate just because they're good replicators. I think it's obvious enough how the 'blow yourself up to kill infidels' meme doesn't do its 'host' any favours.

    Humanity rebelled against genes, will be interesting to see if we can do the same to memes. Given that our consciousness itself may be inextricably linked to them it might be logically i

  • The memes are ideas like: 'No one should die because they cannot afford health care and no one should go broke because they get sick.

    And yet the very thing it was promoting is now making health care less affordable.

    Maybe Facebook could automate a sort of education thing ...

    "It appears you are posting a complaint about losing your insurance or doctor. Would you like to see your earlier 'no one should' meme post?"

  • I remember we did this study in the 5th grade. It was called "Telephone". []

  • Researchers get caught spending too much work time on Facebook. Quickly make up the excuse that they were doing research.

  • On Facebook, sharing is spamming. That's how Facebook gets traffic driven to junk pages.

    (Hint: if anyone sharespams commercial stuff at you, demote them from "close friend" to "friend".)

  • So shortened Memes trump their long versions and they get reused in new places and new ways?

    In other words, FB users are lazy and attention whores. You really needed a study to find that out? I'd have a few studies I could do, where's my grant money!

  • It saddens me how Slashdot used to have a great more discussion on articles of this type, detailing studies, theories, hypothesizing experiments, and thought-provoking anecdotes.

    Now it seems it's just a mire of bitcoin spam and pro/anti government flames.
  • I just want to remind everyone who has aspirations of being a memer, to remember to use only the three approved safe poses: Peace Sign, Bunny Ears, or Fake Weiner. []

FORTRAN is the language of Powerful Computers. -- Steven Feiner