Competing for attention in social media under information overload conditions

Ling Feng, Yanqing Hu, Baowen Li, H. Eugene Stanley, Shlomo Havlin, Lidia A. Braunstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Modern social media are becoming overloaded with information because of the rapidlyexpanding number of information feeds. We analyze the user-generated content in Sina Weibo, and find evidence that the spread of popular messages often follow a mechanism that differs from the spread of disease, in contrast to common belief. In this mechanism, an individual with more friends needs more repeated exposures to spread further the information. Moreover, our data suggest that for certain messages the chance of an individual to share the message is proportional to the fraction of its neighbours who shared it with him/ her, which is a result of competition for attention. We model this process using a fractional susceptible infected recovered (FSIR) model, where the infection probability of a node is proportional to its fraction of infected neighbors. Our findings have dramatic implications for information contagion. For example, using the FSIR model we find that real-world social networks have a finite epidemic threshold in contrast to the zero threshold in disease epidemic models. This means that when individuals are overloaded with excess information feeds, the information either reaches out the population if it is above the critical epidemic threshold, or it would never be well received.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0126090
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
StatePublished - 10 Jul 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Feng et al.This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


FundersFunder number
Israel Science Foundation
National Science Foundation
Directorate for Engineering1125290


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