Echo chambers in the network engineered society

The societal consequences of online infrastructure are today insufficiently understood. Personalization algorithms and online peer interaction arguably can play a role in the emergence of so-called echo chambers, online communities within which the participating individuals are sheltered from information that could challenge their beliefs. The importance of such processes has been brought to the forefront by the 2016 US presidential campaign, Brexit, and the growing importance of populist parties in continental Europe.  

Illustration showing an internet article with the headline: 99 facts that support all your opinions!

The ease by which likeminded individuals can be found and social ties can be formed in this interconnected age, means that also individuals who hold rather extreme and implausible views of the world can easily find others who will validate their views. Search engines that base their recommendations on individuals' own past search history can play an additional role in shaping individuals' beliefs about various social matters. The combined effect may be that individuals become increasingly exposed to homogeneous information, and this may reinforce and/or radicalize their initial positions on current political and social issues.

Social interactions have profound implications for the formation of individual preferences and the propagation of aggregate trends. Not least the recent US presidential campaign, Brexit, and the growing importance of populist parties in continental Europe have brought these types of processes to the foreground. Although not much is known about their importance in these specific instances, it is clear that these types of processes can have far-reaching social consequences. The exact mechanisms through which they operate and the ways in which they are brought about are insufficiently understood by the scientific community, however, and seeking to fill this knowledge gap is at the top of this research project's agenda.

The main reason for our lack of solid insights into these issues is that the networks connecting individuals to one another make the systems complex. In this project, we analyze the co-evolution of individuals' social networks and the semantic content of their online messages, using data from various online platforms such as discussion forums.

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