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Open AccessFeature PaperReview

Information Is Not a Virus, and Other Consequences of Human Cognitive Limits

Information Science Institute, University of Southern California, Marina del Rey, CA 90292, USA
Academic Editor: Emilio Ferrara
Future Internet 2016, 8(2), 21;
Received: 4 February 2016 / Revised: 25 April 2016 / Accepted: 27 April 2016 / Published: 13 May 2016
PDF [370 KB, uploaded 13 May 2016]


The many decisions that people make about what to pay attention to online shape the spread of information in online social networks. Due to the constraints of available time and cognitive resources, the ease of discovery strongly impacts how people allocate their attention to social media content. As a consequence, the position of information in an individual’s social feed, as well as explicit social signals about its popularity, determine whether it will be seen, and the likelihood that it will be shared with followers. Accounting for these cognitive limits simplifies mechanics of information diffusion in online social networks and explains puzzling empirical observations: (i) information generally fails to spread in social media and (ii) highly connected people are less likely to re-share information. Studies of information diffusion on different social media platforms reviewed here suggest that the interplay between human cognitive limits and network structure differentiates the spread of information from other social contagions, such as the spread of a virus through a population. View Full-Text
Keywords: social contagion; information diffusion; social media social contagion; information diffusion; social media

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Lerman, K. Information Is Not a Virus, and Other Consequences of Human Cognitive Limits. Future Internet 2016, 8, 21.

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