Speaker: Michael Mäs (Department of Sociology and the ICS, University of Groningen)
Date and Time: Thursday, December 5th 2019, 16:30-18:30
Venue: ILLC Seminar Room F1.15, Science Park 107.
Title: Do Filter Bubbles Foster Opinion Polarization?
Abstract. Political events such as the Brexit referendum, the election of Donald Trump, and the success of populists in democratic elections have sparked public and scholarly discussion about the effects of online-communication technology on public debate and collective decision-making. In particular, it has been warned that personalization algorithms installed in online social-networks, and search engines contribute to the formation of so-called “filter bubbles”. These bubbles isolate users from information that challenges their views and expose them to content that is in line with their opinions. It has been warned that this contributes to opinion polarization, a dynamic where competing political camps develop increasingly opposing political views. Here, I summarize research on the relationship between personalization and polarization. While I echo the warning that personalization can affect societal processes, I demonstrate that we leap to conclusions when we propose that personalization is responsible for increased polarization. Based on results from formal modeling work, I argue that we lack crucial empirical insight into the microprocess of social influence and the aggregation of repeated influence to macroprocesses of opinion polarization. I call for more research on communication in online environments, pointing to the potential of approaches that combine rigorous theoretical modeling with the emerging field of computational social-science.