What makes online content viral?

information operations, io, infowar, ShadowBrokers, guccifer2, cyberwar


A paper on viral content. Information warfare is about dissemination of narratives and information. I think studying how those pieces of information are diffused to a wider audience is probably worth understanding.

Why are certain pieces of online content (e.g., advertisements, videos, news articles) more viral than others? This article takes a psychological approach to understanding diffusion. Using a unique data set of all the New York Times articles published over a three-month period, the authors examine how emotion shapes virality. The results indicate that positive content is more viral than negative content, but the relationship between emotion and social transmission is more complex than valence alone. Virality is partially driven by physiological arousal. Content that evokes high-arousal positive (awe) or negative (anger or anxiety) emotions is more viral. Content that evokes low-arousal, or deactivating, emotions (e.g., sadness) is less viral. These results hold even when the authors control for how surprising, interesting, or practically useful content is (all of which are positively linked to virality), as well as external drivers of attention (e.g., how prominently content was featured). Experimental results further demonstrate the causal impact of specific emotion on transmission and illustrate that it is driven by the level of activation induced. Taken together, these findings shed light on why people share content and how to design more effective viral marketing campaigns.

As always, page views is king, so being able to force that huge firehose of clicks from a mainstream media site is way better than using a lower tier journal. The trick is really about climbing the ladder of media hierarchy. Turning low level tweets into blog posts, into gizmodo coverage, to WIRED, to NYT.

It’s well know that high valence content is central to high interaction, but here they show that it isn’t the only factor. Generating anger is extremely effective, so is making content surprising or interesting. This is what the ShadowBrokers are trying to do. And Guccifer2.

I wonder if they have studying how to make content more effective for information warfare, or just focussed on creating the “correct spin.”

HT: https://twitter.com/macloo/status/782338073577164800

a related paper to consider as a followup “the structure of virality”: https://5harad.com/papers/twiral.pdf

What makes online content viral?