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On the Relationship Between Relevance and Conflict in Online Social Link Recommendations

Yanbang Wang · Jon Kleinberg

Great Hall & Hall B1+B2 (level 1) #1510


In an online social network, link recommendations are a way for users to discover relevant links to people they may know, thereby potentially increasing their engagement on the platform. However, the addition of links to a social network can also have an effect on the level of conflict in the network --- expressed in terms of polarization and disagreement. To date, however, we have very little understanding of how these two implications of link formation relate to each other: are the goals of high relevance and conflict reduction aligned, or are the links that users are most likely to accept fundamentally different from the ones with the greatest potential for reducing conflict? Here we provide the first analysis of this question, using the recently popular Friedkin-Johnsen model of opinion dynamics. We first present a surprising result on how link additions shift the level of opinion conflict, followed by explanation work that relates the amount of shift to structural features of the added links. We then characterize the gap in conflict reduction between the set of links achieving the largest reduction and the set of links achieving the highest relevance. The gap is measured on real-world data, based on instantiations of relevance defined by 13 link recommendation algorithms. We find that some, but not all, of the more accurate algorithms actually lead to better reduction of conflict. Our work suggests that social links recommended for increasing user engagement may not be as conflict-provoking as people might have thought.

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