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Master's Thesis

The Methodology Used in the Research

1. The Creation of the Survey

From the example hoaxes as provided by the virus information databases from several software houses, the format that most frequently appeared (i.e. that appeared in more than one virus information center) was chosen.

Each of the hoaxes was to be valued on the six criteria. The survey taker was asked to grade each of the criteria on a scale from one to five. There was no default value given to the criteria so a choice had to be made before the participant could continue with the following hoax.

When creating a survey one has to be aware of possible fluctuations in attention span of the survey taker. Questions which are asked earlier in the survey tend to get more attention than questions at the end of the survey.

To make up for this variation, three different versions of the survey were created. The six hoaxes that were selected for examination were divided into three groups of two hoaxes each. The criteria for these groups were that they could not contain two hoaxes from the same success-category of proliferation. The three proliferation groups were high, middle and low proliferation, based on the results of the searches as described in the section on the choice of the hoaxes. The first pair consisted of a low scoring hoax, California IBM and a hoax which scores average on fitness, Penpal Greetings. The second group is made up of one high scoring, Jdbgmgr.exe and one low scoring hoax, Buddylst. The third combination has an average scoring hoax, WTC Survivor combined with a high scoring hoax, Good Times.

These groups of hoaxes were placed in three different subsequent orders to ensure that each group was placed in the first part of the survey, the middle part of the survey and the end of the survey. Because of the way the pairs were organized a low scoring (California IBM), a middle scoring (WTC Survivor) and a high scoring hoax (Jdbgmgr.exe) were at the beginning of the survey and that a low scoring one (Buddylst), a hoax with an average fitness (Penpal Greetings) and a high scoring hoax (Good Times) were at the end of each group in one of the surveys.

2. Statistical analysis

The results of the surveys are gathered per hoax and per question. The answers to the 36 different questions were imported into a spreadsheet program, Excel. By means of the data analysis module it was possible to make a statistical analysis and to compare the answers with the results from the search engine test in order to make a correlation between those two figures.

When correlation is measured it is important not only to pay attention to the positive correlation but to also keep the negative correlation in mind. A positive correlation will, in this research, indicate that the meme’s fitness can be related to the criterion, a negative correlation will mean that the spreading degree of the meme is also dependent of this criterion but in an opposite way.

If the study would show that a high simplicity rating would correlate with a high fitness level of the meme, this would mean that the simpler the structure of a hoax is, the more chance this hoax has of being spread. If there would be a strong negative correlation this would mean that a hoax needs a complex language structure to have a higher spreading potential.

©2006 Klaas Chielens