Algorithms and Blind Dates

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Homophily to Diversity

Connection and Homophily

Social media platforms use algorithms to track our likes and dislikes to provide content that is related to our likes and prevent content related to our dislikes. In the blog, Are you my Friend? (https://medium.com/@nmsimmons2010/shhh-dont-tell-your-friends-3e1a59e73b7), the social nature of humans is explained, as well as how social media platforms promote a feeling of being connected. While humans have a NEED for social connection, that does not always translate to a need for physical socialization. While the social media algorithms provide you with content you are interested in, suggests groups or people you may have a shared interest with, and gives you that feeling of belonging, it may actually be further isolating you.

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Algorithms and Blind Dates: Connection to Isolation

According to Aiello, Barrat, Schifanella, Cattuto, Markines, and Menzer (2012), homophily on social media occurs because of the articles we like/dislike, the content we create and share, as well as our social connections like a common friend between two otherwise strangers. Amazing that an algorithm for a social media platform is setting us up on blind dates! Think about it…when a friend says, “Hey I have this friend you need to meet! You guys would get along so well!” How well do you trust that friend? Do you trust a mathematical equation to know you better?

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Per Nahon and Hemsley (2014), scholars argue that the Internet offers a platform for individuals and as such, it reinforces different ideas, provides alternate theories, and enhances the debate among the broad ideas. Benkler (2006) and Sunstein (2009) (as cited in Nahon and Hemsley, 2014) argue that instead of enhancing debates, these algorithms that provide a sense of connection are causing isolation. . By only supplying you with articles you like or suggesting people you share a commonality with, the algorithm has taken away the ability to learn something new, change your belief, or change somebody else’s beliefs.

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It is your responsibility to research and fact-check the information. If you don’t it may result in your belief system becoming radicalized. “Radicalization refers to the process by which people come to believe that violence against others and even oneself is justified in defense of their own group” (MediaSmarts, n.d.). Per MediaSmarts (n.d.) it starts off as becoming part of a group that shares the same ideals, not necessarily involved with the group’s daily actions; then after a time, these people begin to strongly identify and participate with the group’s daily actions; and finally, the members become activists that believe so strongly about the group’s ideals that they are willing to push it to violence. Again, extreme, but it happens gradually, and hate groups are targeting teens (MediaSmarts, n.d.).

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Homophily, Isolation, and Diversity

To prevent isolation from homophily, remember to stay vigilant and when something you are told does not sit well with you, fact-check it. If you cannot corroborate the story you have the option of just scrolling past or reporting it to the social media platform you are using. If the statement or story challenges your beliefs, consider having an open-mind and engaging in a civil conversation about the topic. Rick Warren (as cited in Sellers, 2015) summed it up nicely, “You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.” The world does not have to agree on every topic. The goal should be respecting our differences.


References

Aiello, L. M., Barrat, A., Schifanella, R., Cattuto, C., Markines, B., Menczer, F., (2012). Friendship prediction and homophily in social media. ACM Transaction on the Web. Retrieved from https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/file/index/docid/718085/filename/folks-tweb.pdf

MediaSmarts. (n.d.). Impact of online hate. Retrieved June 08, 2017, from http://mediasmarts.ca/online-hate/impact-online-hate

Sellers, D. (2015, May 28). Rick Warren quotes on faith: 7 memorable statements from christian evangelist. Retrieved June 08, 2017, from http://www.newsmax.com/FastFeatures/rick-warren-quotes-faith-christian/2015/05/28/id/647286/

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