Oct 15th 2009

Is the social web becoming a dangerous platform for contagious, destructive ideas? As social media usage grows and becomes a hive mind of collective consciousness, it enables a number of positive things to happen, but it also presents a grave danger in the form of dangerous memes.

Dan Dennet gave a great TED talk that I’ve mentioned before where he explores dangerous memes. He defines these as parasitic ideas that subordinate genetic interests, in that they can flourish and spread even when they cause harm to the people who contract them. Examples of these are “ideas to die for” like communism, capitalism, religion, fascism and contagious suicide.

Memes are ideas that act as viruses and spread from person to …

Sep 24th 2009

After putting together the most recent version of my “Science of ReTweets” presentation and putting it up on Slideshare, I got a lot of great feedback, including that it’s a little hard to understand without my explanations along with each slide.

So I pulled all the data together (including some I’ve never published on this blog) with the basic transcript of the talk I give for each slide into one 22 page PDF. That report has already been featured on Fast Company and if you want to get a copy of it, all you have to do is subscribe to my blog, either by RSS or email:

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Oct 28th 2008

Change is at the very core of evolution and without it, all creatures would look alike and behave the same way.
-Martin Dansky

Communication has always been a social phenomenon, stretching back through time since before written language. But the rise of the internet has created new forms of media for memes to travel through, accelerating their spread and changing the selection pressures applied upon them. Each type of contagious media has its own criteria for success that are largely determined by the evolutionary pressures applied on it.

The first memes probably spread through humanity not as written, or likely even spoken word. Early humans were subject to the most brutal evolutionary meme pressures in that the information they …

Aug 15th 2008

Yesterday I posted on the first of two variables in my proposed multivariate transmission rate formula, expression rate (how many people a seed exposes to a meme) and assimilation rate (how many people exposed to that meme turn into seeds themselves). Today I want to look at two more aspects: multiple exposure assimilation and assimilation threshold.

Multiple exposures to certain memes may increase that meme’s assimilation rate. Just hearing an idea from one friend may not catch your attention or allow the meme to be retained in your memory, but when you hear it from two or more friends that could change.

People are exposed to countless new and competing memes everyday and we clearly don’t assimilate all of …

Apr 17th 2008

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In 1940, the British military formed an organization as a part of the Special Operations Executive, or SOE, called the “Underground Propaganda Committee” or UPC whose mission was to create and disseminate rumors as defensive weapons against the expected Nazi invasion of the the English mainland. They code-named the rumor weapons “sibs,” short for siblare, latin word “to hiss.” During the war they developed the craft and science of designing rumors and developed international networks of agents to spread the sibs. (Psywar.org has a great history of the UPC.)

During World War II the Americans, under the Office of Strategic Services …