Assistant Professor Jeff Hemsley explains what makes an event go “viral” on the Internet in this Faculty Minute video.

Chances are, most people can easy recognize the Gangnam Style and Charlie Bit My Finger videos, or the image of Grumpy Cat. Why is that? All three posts, and thousands of similar posts, have gone viral. Taking the Internet by storm.

School of Information Studies (iSchool) Assistant Professor Jeff Hemsley has dedicated his research to learning how information spreads and becomes viral on social media.

Hemsley’s interest in this area began while he was a graduate student at the Information School at the University of Washington (UW). A professor at UW was conducting their research on the topic of virality. Volunteering his time, Hemsley jumped at the chance to assist with the research. The study consisted of looking at ways in which political blogs and other outlets were linking to viral videos. The purpose was to figure out what types of things drive the viral process.

Since then, Hemsley has centered his research on social media and how information moves on those platforms. He looks at how people interact, the information they share and how it goes viral. He also examines differences, such as the one between a meme and a viral event. Some memes become viral and others don’t.

“When we share a link to a video or a news story and it spreads through social media, that’s viral,” explains Hemsley. “When people take a photograph and they doctor it and post their own version of it, that’s a meme. A meme could go viral and a lot of them do, but these are different things,” stated Hemsley.

In April, Syracuse University announced its partnership with Benefunder. The partnership provides 20 Syracuse faculty members with an opportunity to join the company’s funding platform. The platform allows donors to view and donate to researchers’ work.

With similar goals like popular crowdfunding sites Kickstarter and AngelList, Benefunder allows donors to fund research in areas they’re interested it. Founded in 2014, Benefunder has partnered with other institutions, such as the University of California, San Diego and Rutgers University. Unlike typical crowdfunding sites, Benefunder targets high level investors, with a minimum donation amount of $25,000.

At the start of the spring semester, Benefunder reached out to Hemsley expressing interest in his research.

Benefunder sent Hemsley a questionnaire regarding his research focus, and met with him to further discuss his studies. Using the information they collected, Benefunder compiled the material and created a profile on Hemsley for their website.

“Benefunder is like a dating site,” said Hemsley. “Here are people with money who want to invest in knowledge, and here are people who are producing knowledge, do we have a match?”

At the moment, Hemsley is working with an iSchool research team to examine Tweets and Facebook posts from the recent gubernatorial elections. He is also collecting data surrounding the upcoming presidential election. His role in the research is to examine how people are interacting with politicians across social media.

In terms of selecting in which direction his research should go next Hemsley said, “it’s a natural process. The more that you learn, the more questions you might have, and all of those questions are areas you could go into.”

Although future research topics are still uncertain, Hemsley hopes that Benefunder may be there to help bridge the financial gap.