When users post photos on Facebook, they have the option of allowing their friends, followers, or anyone at all to subsequently reshare the photo. A portion of the billions of photos posted to Facebook generates cascades of reshares, enabling many additional users to see, like, comment, and reshare the photos.
In this paper we present characteristics of such cascades in aggregate, finding that a small fraction of photos account for a significant proportion of reshare activity and generate cascades of non-trivial size and depth. We also show that the true influence chains in such cascades can be much deeper than what is visible through direct attribution.
To illuminate how large cascades can form, we study the diffusion trees of two widely distributed photos: one posted on President Barack Obama’s page following his reelection victory, and another posted by an individual Facebook user hoping to garner enough likes for a cause. We show that the two cascades, despite achieving comparable total sizes, are markedly different in their time evolution, reshare depth distribution, predictability of subcascade sizes, and the demographics of users who propagate them.
The findings suggest not only that cascades can achieve considerable size but that they can do so in distinct ways.