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Viral: "gone viral"

Last Edit: 10/01/17

From 2005 to the present day (2014), a term that is used to describe how online news is spread is: "gone viral". The term should not be confused with a computer virus: which is a self replicating program that attaches itself to computer files, and then typically modifies the computer file, causing corruption and destruction to computer systems.

Instead, "gone viral" refers to how interaction between Internet users, one to one, can pass news about an online topic or service. Just as with a biological virus, which is spread from one person to another; the speed by which a virus spreads increases exponentially as more and more people are infected. Biological viruses typically reach a point where a critical mass (maximum) of people have become infected, and then, as people's immune system destroy the virus, the speed by which the virus spreads decreases rapidly. This is typical of news on the Internet: news quickly increases in popularity, eventually reaching a stage where it cannot be passed further and people find something else to chat about.

The term "gone viral" was most likely coined to describe the interaction of users on social networking services. Social networking - like Facebook, Myspace, Twitter - came to prominence from 2000-2005. Social networking websites revolutionised how users interact online and also revolutionised social interaction. Before the advent of social networking websites, online social interaction tended to be transitory, and was usually conducted by strangers who used nicknames. Social networking websites, most obviously Facebook, enabled families, friends and work colleagues to connect themselves, and, for the first time the Internet began to be used primarily as a 'social interaction vehicle'. The pattern and speed by which news spread amongst these social networks obviously is aptly described by the technique and speed by which a biological virus is spread.