Epidemics in Technological and Social Networks; the Downside of Six Degrees of Separation

April 18, 2007
During the past decade, complex networks have become increasingly important in communication and information technology. Vast, self-engineered networks, like the Internet, the World Wide Web, and Instant Messaging Networks, have facilitated the flow of information, and served as media for social and economic interaction. In social networks, the ease of information flow goes by many names: the "small world" phenomenon, the "Kevin Bacon phenomenon," and "six degrees of separation"—the claim that any two people on earth can be connected through a chain of acquaintances with at most five intermediaries. Unfortunately, many of the properties that facilitate information transmission also facilitate the spread of viruses in both technological and social networks. Dr. Chayes uses simple mathematical models to explain these epidemics and to examine strategies for their containment.