The complex link between filter bubbles and opinion polarization

Tracking #: 629-1609

Responsible editor: 

Victor de Boer

Submission Type: 

Position Paper


There is public and scholarly debate about the effects of personalized recommender systems implemented in online social networks, online markets, and search engines. On the one hand, it has been warned that personalization algorithms generate homogenous information diets that tend to confirm previously held attitudes and beliefs. Opinionated social media posts, shared news items, and online discussion could fragment social groups, alienate users with different political views, and ultimately foster opinion polarization. On the other hand, critics of this ‚Äúpersonalization-polarization hypothesis‚ÄĚ argue that the effects of personalization algorithms on information diets are too weak to have meaningful effects. Here, we argue that contributions to both sides of the debate fail to consider the complexity that arises when large numbers of interdependent Internet users interact and exert influence on one another in algorithmically governed communication systems. Reviewing insights from the literature of opinion dynamics in social networks, we demonstrate that opinion dynamics can be critically influenced by mechanisms active on three levels of analysis: the individual, local, and global level. We show which theoretical and empirical research on these three levels is needed to answer the question whether personalization fosters polarization or not, advocating an approach that combines rigorous theoretical modeling with the emergent field of data science.



  • Reviewed

Data repository URLs: 


Date of Submission: 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Date of Decision: 

Monday, June 15, 2020



Solicited Reviews:

1 Comment

Meta-Review by Editor

While the reviewers appreciate the way this important topic is addressed in this paper, they express some concerns about background literature, indication of novelty and contributions:

- There is key literature missing and the paper stays at a surface level for important concepts, these are both technical (R1) and political science (R2). This would need to be addressed carefully in a resubmission by engaging with key literature on both sides and carefully defining a number of concepts used in the paper (see both R1 and R2)

- Regarding the paper being in scope: After a quick discussion with the journal editors, I am of the opinion that the paper fits the journal's scope. However, the paper could clarify more clearly its contribution in the technical dimension and make explicit the "potentially disruptive position" (see R1).

Victor de Boer (