According to one Princeton professor, social media sites such as Facebook are akin to the pathogens that have plagued humankind, save for one important difference.

Facebook, according to Dr. John Cannarella, is a pathogen of the mind. Cannarella isn’t judging the site or its content, but is instead referring to the idea that websites are memes.

A meme-not to be confused with a viral Internet photo-is a concept form the social sciences. Fundamentally, a meme is an idea. Like a pathogen, it is passed from person to person. As with any virus, the population can gain immunity.

The Princeton Study

In his paper, Dr. Cannarella predicted that Facebook will lose over 80% of its user base by 2017. The professor and his team analyzed the growth curves of Facebook and MySpace, and then they compared the curves to those of common pathogens.

Surprisingly, the curves matched. In the case of MySpace, the social network’s curve matched the average rate at which a population recovers from an illness.

Dr. Cannarella notes that Facebook is just beginning to enter the “abandonment phase,” the point at which its popularity is beginning to taper off. To gather their data, the team analyzed Google searches relevant to the networks over several years.

Facebook began as a tool for Harvard students, but it was soon opened to the general population. Users took to the site’s clean interface and useful features. Today, the site enjoys over 1.23-billion members, and over 900-million mobile users. Yet now, according to Dr. Cannarella’s thesis, Facebook users are beginning to chafe.


In this model, users of social networks gain immunity as the networks mutate from their original state. Any good pathogen seeks to infect as much of the population as possible before becoming harmful. Put another way, as networks seek to monetize, they make changes that irritate users. Users then begin to develop immunity to them.

Facebook, which recently went public, is particularly susceptible because the changes they now make are driven by a desire to turn a profit for their investors. Networks Twitter and Pinterest, on the other hand, have high survivability according to this model because they change little and have high utility.

Effects of Mutation

In 2014, Facebook spent time in the limelight for supposedly cooperating with the NSA’s PRISM project and for conducting experiments on its users. Both of these stories had Facebook users up in arms, and the latter spurred one creative agency to launch a non-profit experiment of their own.

The agency, Just B.V, is calling for Facebook users to give up the network for 99 days and to take happiness questionnaires periodically throughout that time. As of July 2014, over 6,000 Facebook users have signed on. Just as illuminating, a Cornell University study revealed that 25% of Facebook users periodically deactivate their accounts.


It’s unlikely that Google+ will be “the next big thing.” The network is associated with Facebook in user’s minds, and not in a good way. Naturally, the next Facebook will utilize cutting-edge algorithms that make it easy for users to connect in meaningful ways, and it will be heavily focused on mobile. Tying into a user’s geographic location has several advantages.

Such a network could alert the user to resources in their immediate environment, as well as to people of interest. The Geo-fence will likely come into play here, and the network may help shoppers find valuable discounts in brick and mortar stores.

The age of social media for fun is likely drawing to a close, so expect the next Facebook to focus on saving users time.

Networks that continue to cater to teens-who have infinite time-are in danger of becoming the next MySpace. The next big thing can crop up at any time, so be vigilant. You’ll want to get in before it’s saturated with marketers.

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