The rise of social media and online social networks has been a disruptive force in society. Opinions are increasingly shaped by interactions on online social media, and social phenomena including disagreement and polarization are now tightly woven into everyday life. In this work we initiate the study of the following question:
Given agents, each with its own initial opinion that reflects its core value on a topic, and an opinion dynamics model, what is the structure of a social network that minimizes polarization and disagreement simultaneously?
This question is central to recommender systems: should a recommender system prefer a link suggestion between two online users with similar mindsets in order to keep disagreement low, or between two users with different opinions in order to expose each to the other’s viewpoint of the world, and decrease overall levels of polarization?
Our contributions include a mathematical formalization of this question as an optimization problem and an exact, time-efficient algorithm. We also prove that there always exists a network with edges that is a approximation to the optimum. For a fixed graph, we additionally show how to optimize our objective function over the agents’ innate opinions in polynomial time. Finally, we perform an empirical study of our proposed methods on synthetic and real-world data that verify their value as mining tools to better understand the trade-off between of disagreement and polarization.
Matlab code is available on github.