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Mathematical Model Explains How Something Goes Viral On Internet

Update Date: Mar 01, 2016 02:12 PM EST

To better understand "explosive" Internet trends, a team of researchers from the University of Aberdeen created the first-ever mathematical model to point out the method behind which various issues become viral.

Epidemic models were used to drawing influence from transmission of complex social phenomena as well as infectious diseases. They created a new model that factored friends and acquaintances while it examined the spread of new ideas.

The study was published in the Jan. 28 issue of Scientific Reports.

"We often witness social phenomena that become accepted by many people overnight, especially now in the age of social media," Francisco Perez-Reche, lead author of the study, said in a press release. "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."

Earlier, models did not measure the "synergistic effects of acquaintances" and also did not point out the contagious nature of ideas spreading wildly through cyberspace.

"In very basic terms our model shows that people's opposition to accepting 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," Perez-Reche said.

While social media is important, the value of the idea or product and its acceptance from friends and acquaintances is also valuable, said the team.

The team feels that this model can take into account social issues and also help companies to help give their product an edge over the competition.

"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," Perez-Reche explained.

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

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