Modelling rapid online cultural transmission: evaluating neutral models on Twitter data with approximate Bayesian computation

Palgrave Communications. 2019;5(1):1-9 DOI 10.1057/s41599-019-0295-9


Journal Homepage

Journal Title: Palgrave Communications

ISSN: 2055-1045 (Online)

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

LCC Subject Category: Social Sciences

Country of publisher: United Kingdom

Language of fulltext: English

Full-text formats available: PDF, HTML



Simon Carrignon (Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF))

R. Alexander Bentley (University of Tennessee)

Damian Ruck (University of Tennessee)


Blind peer review

Editorial Board

Instructions for authors

Time From Submission to Publication: 19 weeks


Abstract | Full Text

Abstract As social media technologies alter the variation, transmission and sorting of online information, short-term cultural evolution is transformed. In these media contexts, cultural evolution is an intra-generational process with much ‘horizontal’ transmission. As a pertinent case study, here we test variations of culture-evolutionary neutral models on recently-available Twitter data documenting the spread of true and false information. Using Approximate Bayesian Computation to resolve the full joint probability distribution of models with different social learning biases, emphasizing context versus content, we explore the dynamics of online information cascades: Are they driven by the intrinsic content of the message, or the extrinsic value (e.g., as a social badge) whose intrinsic value is arbitrary? Despite the obvious relevance of specific learning biases at the individual level, our tests at the online population scale indicate that unbiased learning model performs better at modelling information cascades whether true or false.