There’s a Good Reason Why We Share Annoying Facebook Memes

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Jimi Hendrix performs at the Felt Forum on January 28, 1970 in New York City. Walter Iooss Jr. / Getty Images

“I’ve seen nine of the following ten musical acts live — try to guess which one is a lie.”

You’ve probably noticed an annoying number of Facebook statuses like this showing up in your newsfeed these past couple weeks. Our internet friends are advertising their mostly true concert-going history to us and inviting us to find the odd man out. The meme was a fun novelty the first five or ten times it cropped up, a fun way to gauge how well we know (or think we know) our friends. But now it’s everywhere, and it’s driving us nuts. It begs the question: Why do we spread internet memes like this one?

“[It’s a way of asking] ‘How well do you know me?’” says Robin Dunbar, head of the Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group in the experimental psychology department at the University of Oxford. “It’s a kind of test of the relationship.” Dunbar, who coined “Dunbar’s number,” which states that human beings can only sustainably maintain 150 relationships at a time, says human meme-spreading can “probably” be fairly correlated to fashion. If you like or admire someone who posts the 10 musical acts meme, you’re more likely to post it yourself and add to the momentum of the damn thing. But if you’re as bothered by this meme as we are, Dunbar has good news for you — it’s on its way out by virtue of being so prevalent.

“These things tend to acquire value by virtue of novelty,” he says. When memes are rare or uncommon, people are more inclined to participate due to their newness or freshness. But “the moment something becomes widely accepted, it ceases to have value as a marker of a small community. We are mainly interested in being members of small communities, not being a member of the universe.”

So sit tight for now. Those numbered lists of bands will disappear from your Facebook feed soon enough. Until then, why don’t you whittle down your friends list to 150 members or less?