First mathematical model to explain how things go viral

February 26, 2016 by Robert Turbyne
The research acknowledges the important role of social media in making explosive contagion more apparent in our everyday lives than ever before.

Scientists have come up with the first ever mathematical model to explain explosive contagion in social networks - in other words, how things go viral.

Using epidemic models that draw comparisons between the transmission of complex social phenomena and infectious diseases, scientists at the Universities of Aberdeen, Cambridge, Zaragoza and Nacional de Colombia have developed a model that includes the impact of friends and acquaintances in the sudden spread of new ideas.

Dr Francisco Perez-Reche, from the University of Aberdeen's School of Natural and Computing Sciences, is the lead author of the study, which has been published in Nature Scientific Reports.

"We often witness social phenomena that become accepted by many people overnight, especially now in the age of social media," he said.

"This is especially relevant to social contexts in which individuals initially hesitate to join a collective movement, for example a strike, because they fear becoming part of a minority that could be punished. But it also applies to new ideas or products.

"Mathematical models proposed in the past typically neglected the synergistic effects of acquaintances and were unable to explain explosive contagion, but we show that these effects are ultimately responsible for whether something catches on quickly.

"In very basic terms our model shows that people's opposition to accept a new idea acts as a barrier to large contagion, until the transmission of the phenomenon becomes strong enough to overcome that reluctance – at this point, explosive contagion happens."

The research acknowledges the important role that can play in this process, making explosive contagion more apparent in our everyday lives than ever before.

However, it is the intrinsic value of the idea or product, and whether friends and acquaintances adopt it or not, that remains the crucial factor.

Dr Perez-Reche added that the model could potentially be used to address social issues, or by companies to give their product the edge over rivals.

"Our conclusions rely on numerical simulations and analytical calculations for a variety of contagion models, and we anticipate that the new understanding provided by our study will have important implications in real social scenarios," he explained.

"For instance, it could lead to better strategies to minimise the risk of sudden and often unexpected epidemics of undesired social behaviour. Similarly, it will suggest methods to engineer explosive diffusion of innovative products and ideas."

Explore further: Facebook and Twitter may yield clues to preventing the spread of disease

More information: J. Gómez-Gardeñes et al. Explosive Contagion in Networks, Scientific Reports (2016). DOI: 10.1038/srep19767

Related Stories

Those who stay together yawn together

December 7, 2011

You're more likely to respond to a yawn with another yawn when it comes from family member or a friend than from a stranger, says a study published Dec. 7 in the online journal PLoS ONE.

Why yawning is contagious in bonobos

November 14, 2012

Being socially close to another bonobo is more likely to make bonobo apes yawn in response to the other's yawns, according to research published November 14 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Elisabetta Palagi and Elisa ...

How 'social contagion' begins and escalates

April 11, 2014

Understanding the roots of a global, contagious spread of online information may help better predict political revolutions, consumer behavior, box office revenues, public policy debates, and even public health epidemics, ...

Recommended for you

Swiss unveil stratospheric solar plane

December 7, 2016

Just months after two Swiss pilots completed a historic round-the-world trip in a Sun-powered plane, another Swiss adventurer on Wednesday unveiled a solar plane aimed at reaching the stratosphere.

Solar panels repay their energy 'debt': study

December 6, 2016

The climate-friendly electricity generated by solar panels in the past 40 years has all but cancelled out the polluting energy used to produce them, a study said Tuesday.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

anonieme_x
1 / 5 (2) Feb 27, 2016
Indeed, don't think barriers /resistance, think filters /resonance.
Also an important factor when compared to 'spreading information mouth to mouth' is that on digital social media, information stays in tact over many generations of copying. This makes that more complex ideas (/images) can spread better, further and easier.
bigavdc
not rated yet Feb 27, 2016
strategies to minimise the risk of sudden and often unexpected epidemics of undesired social behaviour


dafuq? fuckbois, I'll shit on you as much as I want, take your leftist censorship and shove it

methods to engineer explosive diffusion of innovative products and ideas


so shitty companies will keep their place even better, practically no threat to them no matter what

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.