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'Haha' has killed 'lol,' says Facebook

If you still "lol" at jokes online then you might be in the minority. A new report from Facebook into how users express laughter shows that "haha" and its variants are by far the most common terms used on the social network. They accounted for 51.4 percent of mirth in the anonymized comments and posts looked at by Facebook's data team, with laughter emoji claiming 33.7 percent, and "hehe" and its cognates 13.1 percent. The once-mighty "lol" only appeared in 1.9 percent of the text sampled by Facebook — a pretty staggering fall for an expression that was once synonymous with online txt speak.

Emoji were more popular among female users

Although not surprising for such a venerable term, "lol" proved slightly more popular with older users. Differences between generations were not heavily pronounced, but it was emoji that were most popular with users with the youngest median age, while "haha," "hehe," and "lol" were favored by progressively older individuals. The data also showed that emoji were more popular among female users, with "haha" showing a small male bias, and "hehe" distributed nearly evenly among the genders. Not many people were regular chortlers though: in the week's worth of data Facebook looked at, 46 percent of those that laughed in the seven days did so only once, with the vast majority — 85 percent — laughing fewer than five times.

Two graphs showing laughter preference by age (left) and by gender (right). (Facebook)

Facebook's data team also examined how users deployed variants of these laughter terms, looking at whether they hehe'd more than they hehehehe'd, for example. An article in The New Yorker that inspired Facebook's analysis suggested that we use "ha"s and "he"s as building blocks, adding up these lexical units to convey everything from polite recognition ("ha") to no-really-I'm-going-a-bit-mad-with-laughter ("hahahahahahahaha"). Although interpretation of these different strings can be quite subjective, Facebook's data showed that even letter counts were more common than odd ones, suggesting that we do indeed stack up these two-letter phonemes like Lego bricks

"The lol almost always stands by itself, though some rare specimens were found."

As Facebook's researchers explain: "The most common are the four-letter hahas and hehes. The six-letter hahaha is also very common, and in general, the haha-ers use longer laughter. The haha-ers are also slightly more open than the hehe-ers to using odd number of letters, and we do see the occasional hahaas and hhhhaaahhhaas. The lol almost always stands by itself, though some rare specimens of lolz and loll were found. A single emoji is used 50 percent of the time, and it's quite rare to see people use more than five identical consecutive emoji." However, Facebook's data scientists should probably look at Instagram, where long strings of Face With Tears Of Joy emoji are more common. And judging by the demographics of the two social networks, this is how laughter online is likely to look in the future.