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First Study of the Evolution of Memes On Facebook

Unknown Lamer posted about 7 months ago | from the memepool-goes-to-college dept.

Social Networks 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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Evolution? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46428489)

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

Re:Evolution? (1)

Big Hairy Ian (1155547) | about 7 months ago | (#46428611)

If it's FaceBook it must be survival of the fattest

Re: Evolution? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46429671)

Wtf spending money on researching this is a comets waste. It's called 'Chinese whispers' and has fuck all to do with evolution. Morons

Re:Evolution? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46428709)

Still in beta

Re:Evolution? (1)

Remus Shepherd (32833) | about 7 months ago | (#46429461)

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.

Re:Evolution? (2)

Qwertie (797303) | about 7 months ago | (#46431295)

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 headline-friendly to say "memes multiply like rabbits" or "memes compete like bacteria growing in a dish", and then we wouldn't be snickering about creationism again. Yes, the researchers studied mutation too--but the "Yule Process" has nothing to do with mutation or evolution (except in the sense that population growth is "evolution" of the population size).

It isn't news that macroscopic processes sometimes resemble microscopic ones. Electrons orbit atoms--just like planets orbit the sun! Photons bounce off mirrors--just like basketballs bounce off floors! Memes mutate--just like genes, but, er, with differences! Question: so what?

Re:Evolution? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46433877)

Electrons orbit atoms--just like planets orbit the sun!

Dude, it's 2014, not 1914. Don't listen to Bohr, he got it all wrong. Look for Schroedinger, Born and Heisenberg, they'll give you the clues you need.

Photons bounce off mirrors--just like basketballs bounce off floors!

Way harder to get those double-slit interference patterns with a single basketball though.

random and blind (1)

gsslay (807818) | about 7 months ago | (#46428497)

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?

Re:random and blind (1)

bunratty (545641) | about 7 months ago | (#46428587)

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.

Re:random and blind (1)

gsslay (807818) | about 7 months ago | (#46429189)

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.

You can't actually disprove intelligent design (1)

morgauxo (974071) | about 7 months ago | (#46429599)

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...

Re:random and blind (1)

unitron (5733) | about 7 months ago | (#46430455)

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.

Re:random and blind (1)

pigiron (104729) | about 7 months ago | (#46431845)

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

Re:random and blind (1)

gameboyhippo (827141) | about 7 months ago | (#46428811)

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 organisms and those adapted and changed over time. Similarly memes are created individually using similar formulas over time. There isn't a proto-meme that is the father of all memes. But each meme was designed by an intelligent (not high IQ or super wise, just something that is self determining) entity. Each meme then evolves. Sometimes the evolution of one meme affects another, but each has its distinct origin.

Re:random and blind (2)

Jason Levine (196982) | about 7 months ago | (#46428943)

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." http://www.gallup.com/poll/155003/hold-creationist-view-human-origins.aspx

Re: random and blind (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46429089)

Depends on if you think only Americans are people.

Rough figures 240-300 million people - population of USA

6 billion worl population. So 4-5% of world population are Americans of whom 43% believe in Christian creation myths. So approx 2-2.5% of the world population believe in Christian creationism.

Statistically not enough worth the 2 minutes to write this comment.

Re:random and blind (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46429015)

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...

Re:random and blind (1)

gameboyhippo (827141) | about 7 months ago | (#46429289)

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.

No (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46428501)

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

Re:No (1)

ackthpt (218170) | about 7 months ago | (#46428573)

But what does the Zuck say?

Re:No (2)

Megane (129182) | about 7 months ago | (#46429171)

All memes were created over 9,000 hours ago.

FTFY

Don't lose hope (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46428509)

If those memes advance enough, maybe in some decades could be someone intelligent in Facebook at last.

"Humans on Facebook are like bacteria." (4, Funny)

Ignacio (1465) | about 7 months ago | (#46428523)

Am I doing it right?

Huh? cart horse (4, Insightful)

cellocgw (617879) | about 7 months ago | (#46428533)

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 (5, Informative)

oodaloop (1229816) | about 7 months ago | (#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.

Re:Huh? cart horse (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46428671)

Fuck you. No one gives a fuck what you think. But you're bullshit isn't the reason why I'm here.
 
I'm here because I want to talk to the readers of this website about a problem we have here in the real world. That problem is dick smoking faggots. They spread disease, they cause civil disruption and they mean to turn your children against you. All the while they'll be sucking shit out of each others assholes and your women will swoon for their faggot bullshit. It's a motherfucking shame. If there were a god I'd pray that faggots would all die.
 
Carry on. Unless you're a faggot, in that case just go away forever.

Re:Huh? cart horse (2)

oodaloop (1229816) | about 7 months ago | (#46428713)

Stop following me on the internet, MOM!

Re:Huh? cart horse (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46429645)

My. my. someone is being a real bitch today. Sounds like you could use a rocket up your mud trail.

Re:Huh? cart horse (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46428917)

I'll soon be publishing a paper regarding of the colour of the sky.

Re:Huh? cart horse (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46429077)

The concept of a "meme" is also utterly incompatible with his materially-reduced metaphysics, as well, but hey.

Point me to a meme, so I can scientifically quantify it and verify it exists. After you do that, I'll do the same for souls.

Re:Huh? cart horse (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46428741)

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?

A meme (/ËmiËm/; meem) [wikipedia.org] is "an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture." A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.

Not just on the internet and it gives the unstated means and methods to practice things like the 3E's accredited to Microsoft but have existed and been used by governments, organized religions as well as those who seek to gain from those etc for almost as long as we have had words. Look at what happened to terms like anarchy, liberal, hacker, etc over the years. Words meanings change over time to some extent, but never so rapidly and completely as they do when the new meaning is marketed. Asking people's opinions can be done in such a way as to influence those opinions and/or show the opinions and prejudices of its editors and/or their superiors. Have fun sorting it all out while trying to stay unaffected.

Cheap advertising too (2)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 7 months ago | (#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.

Re:Cheap advertising too (2)

Jason Levine (196982) | about 7 months ago | (#46428955)

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.

Re:Cheap advertising too (1)

Algae_94 (2017070) | about 7 months ago | (#46429651)

I never did get to punch the monkey. I wonder what I was really missing out on?

Re:Cheap advertising too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46430279)

You left out all the other meme mutations...

${n50%} on travel from ${secretInsider}

and

${n4} times sexier!

All ripped from the covers of magazines at your local grocery store check-out lane.

Re:Cheap advertising too (1)

phorm (591458) | about 7 months ago | (#46431811)

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 potential visitor might be from).

Which countries? (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 7 months ago | (#46428565)

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?

Who knew... (0)

oh_my_080980980 (773867) | about 7 months ago | (#46428613)

...that studying gossip would be become a research area....

That explains it (1)

zeroryoko1974 (2634611) | about 7 months ago | (#46428661)

Humans are getting stupider the longer they spend on Facebook, so apparently this is genetic, and we are all doomed

Wow (2)

PPH (736903) | about 7 months ago | (#46428669)

Such research.

Much grants.

So controversy.

Plz no frost pist.

Vry concern.

Re:Wow (1)

Kookus (653170) | about 7 months ago | (#46430561)

Such research.

Much grants.

So controversy.

Plz no frost pist.

Vry concern.

The unfortunate thing about memes for humanity (1)

Maritz (1829006) | about 7 months ago | (#46428677)

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 impossible to do so ;)

Mod parent up (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46430615)

That was the key of "the selfish gene" and it applies to memes. There is not necessarily any relation between a meme replication rate and its value/worth/information. The fact that social media makes them spread faster might probably qualify social media as a worse and not a better medium for information communication.
For example: memes are more difficult to spread in slashdot than in facebook. That's one of the reasons why discussions in slashdot are still (sometimes) much better

Stupid CONservatives (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46428833)

They turn a discussion on the requirements of being a human into a discussion about beer. I wish they would just shut the fuck up and let the adults in the room have an adult conversation about health care.

immunization? treatment? (1)

cascadingstylesheet (140919) | about 7 months ago | (#46428885)

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?"

Re:immunization? treatment? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46429675)

They should totally automate a thing for this.

That thing is having a big fat guy take a dump on your chest while you are dressed like a baby.

"Evolution"... not (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46429025)

"Something being changed by some means" is not synonymous with "evolution" in terms of a scientific theory.

This helpful video should be all the clarification one could possibly require on this point:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... [youtube.com]

And, to be clear, all these "mutations" were unarguably intelligently designed. If we're going to stretch a metaphor arbitrarily far, any metaphor will do. "Memes" are best understood as sandwiches, perhaps, in that there are many variants from a baseline, and the common variants change over time.

Crazy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46429327)

Another possible field of research that leads to burger flipping
http://www.schlockmercenary.co... [schlockmercenary.com]

In other words (1)

slapout (93640) | about 7 months ago | (#46429425)

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

Sharing is spamming (1)

Animats (122034) | about 7 months ago | (#46429591)

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".)

What else is new? (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 7 months ago | (#46429741)

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!

4chan is the source. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46430073)

Facebook meme's, 2 months after they were created by 4chan members.

Rather sad (1)

paazin (719486) | about 7 months ago | (#46430105)

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.

The Three Approved Memes (1)

Scarletdown (886459) | about 7 months ago | (#46432611)

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. [youtube.com]

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