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Why It’s a Lot Harder to ‘Go Viral’ on the Internet Than You Think

The article talked about the content we consider “viral” on the Internet actually did not get shared and re-shared as much as we think. A few years ago, a research showed that more than 90 percent of the content on Twitter did not diffuse at all, only about 1 percent of the messages was shared more than 7 times. The real reason why some piece of content is so widely spread is because they are shared by a user with massive amount of audience, such as celebrities like Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian. The information has been “broadcasted”. We get the impression that something is going viral because we see our friends talking about it on our homepage, but between its publication and our homepage, it has already been broadcasted. Thus, around 95 percent of the news we see on Twitter comes directly from the original source, or within one degree of separation.

In the information cascade model we learned, the number of “friends” of each node in a group, or the power of each node does not vary largely. In reality, there are “nodes” that are so powerful that the information does not have to travel far before it reaches you. What seems to be the “wisdom of the crowd” may still be the influence of a few elites.

From my personal experience, I see that the number of “likes” on a Twitter post often exceeds a tremendous amount that the number of retweets, which is not necessary the case on Weibo, the Chinese social media. I wonder if this factor can influence the one-to-one versus one-to-one-million sharing pattern of information on social media, and how we receive our messages. (This is based on the fact that Weibo does not show “likes” to your followers, only the “retweets” are shown, while Twitter has made the process so confusing by randomly showing your followers what you have liked on their timelines.)



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