Facebook Data Science did a study on the evolution of Facebook memes.
Memes spread on Facebook much like stories in the telephone game, where one person whispers a secret to the person next to them, and by the time the secret reaches the last person in line, it has evolved into something different.
The team studied one particular meme: “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.”
In September of 2009, over 470,000 Facebook users posted this exact statement as their status update. At some point someone created a variant by prepending “thinks that” (which would follow the individual’s name, e.g., “Sam thinks that no one…”), which was copied 60,000 times. The third most popular variant inserted “We are only as strong as the weakest among us” in the middle. “The rest of the day” at one point (probably in the late evening hours) became “the next 24 hours”. Others abbreviated it to “24 hrs”, or extended it to “the rest of the week”.
Using anonymized data, there were 121,605 different variants of this particular meme which appeared in 1.14 million status updates.
So how is this similar to genetics?
When studying thousands of viral Facebook memes, “we have a very unique opportunity to actually trace when copies and mutations occurred, and these are the two basic ingredients in the evolutionary process,” the data team wrote.