Heavy-tailed distributions of meme popularity occur naturally in a model of meme diffusion on social networks. Competition between multiple memes for the limited resource of user attention is identified as the mechanism that poises the system at criticality. The popularity growth of each meme is described by a critical branching process, and asymptotic analysis predicts power-law distributions of popularity with very heavy tails (exponent $\alpha<2$, unlike preferential-attachment models), similar to those seen in empirical data.
Competition-induced criticality in a model of meme popularity
James P. Gleeson, Jonathan A. Ward, Kevin P. O'Sullivan, William T. Lee