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."