Researchers Compare Facebook To Disease, Say Die-Off Is Coming

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A pair of Princeton researchers using “epidemiological modeling of online social network dynamics” say that Facebook will see a rapid decline in users over the next few years.

An awful lot of people use Facebook. An awful lot of people died of the Black Death. What’s the link? According to Princeton University researchers John Cannarella and Joshua A. Spencer, the rise and fall of online social networks [OSNs] like MySpace and Facebook are analogous to infection by, and recovery from, disease.

“The application of disease-like dynamics to OSN adoption follows intuitively, since users typically join OSNs because their friends have already joined,” their research paper states. “The precedent for applying epidemiological models to non-disease applications has previously been set by research focused on modeling the spread of less-tangible applications such as ideas. Ideas, like diseases, have been shown to spread infectiously between people before eventually dying out, and have been successfully described with epidemiological models.”

If the results of the research are even close to accurate, the news is not good for Facebook. “Having validated the irSIR [Infectious Recovery SIR] model of OSN dynamics on Google data for search query MySpace, we then applied the model to the Google data for search query Facebook,” it concludes. “Extrapolating the best fit model into the future suggests that Facebook will undergo a rapid decline in the coming years, losing 80 percent of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017.”

It’s easy enough to look at this as an exercise conducted by bored academics with too much time on their hands, but as they note in their introduction, there are real-world applications for this sort of thing too. MySpace was founded in 2003 and was purchased by News Corp in 2005 for $580 million, but after peaking at 75.9 million unique monthly visits in 2008, it faded to irrelevance by 2011 and was sold that year for just $35 million. Facebook acknowledged in October 2013 that it had experienced a decline in usage among younger teens in the U.S., the first time it has reported such a loss.

Source: Cornell University Library

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