Models of viral propagation in digital contexts: How messages and ideas—from Internet memes to fake news—created by consumers, bots, and marketers spread

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

Abstract

The digital manifestation of viral propagation—the repeated peer-to-peer communication of a message and its attendant idea—represents a fundamental shift in the way ideas, meanings, and information flow. While digital channels help to multiply the impact of viral propagation, they also accentuate the fallout from poorly executed viral campaigns or unintended viral messages. A more precise understanding of its nature and process gains in significance considering that viral propagation has enabled the unchecked proliferation of malicious messages that perpetuate misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, vaccine skepticism, and hate speech. However, the lack of an integrative overview of pertinent scholarship on viral propagation across several disciplines has left us with knowledge silos of the phenomenon. Synthesizing extant works, this chapter highlights four theoretical models of viral propagation that explicate its conceptual foundations and the factors that shape its manifestation in digital contexts, comprising (1) viral marketing and memetic participatory culture; (2) emotional contagion and discrepancy theories; (3) word-of-mouth, diffusion theory, and network analysis; and (4) algorithmic culture, big data, and artificial intelligence. This chapter further reflects on the promises and pitfalls of viral propagation in the digital age and highlights the gaps in our knowledge concerning the consequences for individual consumers.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of Digital Consumption
EditorsRussell W. Belk, Rosa Llamas
PublisherRoutledge
Chapter38
Edition2nd
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Marketing
  • Social Psychology
  • Anthropology
  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Library and Information Sciences
  • General Social Sciences

User-Defined Keywords

  • viral marketing
  • Memes
  • participatory culture
  • emotional contagion
  • Electronic word of mouth (eWOM)

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