Sick echo chambers

Over the past year, I’ve been building a model that lets me look at how opinions evolve in belief space, much in the manner that flocks, herds and schools emerge in the wild.

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Recently, I was Listening to BBC Business Daily this morning on Facebook vs Democracy:

  • Presenter Ed Butler hears a range of voices raising concern about the existential threat that social media could pose to democracy, including Ukrainian government official Dmytro Shymkiv, journalist Berit Anderson, tech investor Roger McNamee and internet pioneer Larry Smarr.

Roger McNamee and Larry Smarr in particular note how social media can be used to increase polarization based on emergent poles. In other words, “normal” opposing views can be amplified by attentive bad actors [page 24] with an eye towards causing generalized societal disruption.

My model explores emergent group interactions and I wondered if this adversarial herding in information space as it might work in my model.

These are the rough rules I started with:

  • Herders can teleport, since they are not emotionally invested in their belief space position and orientation
  • Herders appear like multiple individuals that may seem close and trustworthy, but they are actually a distant monolithic entity that is aware of a much larger belief space.
  • Herders amplify arbitrary pre-existing positions. The insight is that they are not herding in a direction, but to increase polarization
  • To add this to the model, I needed to do the following:
    • Make the size of the agent a function of the weight so we can see what’s going on
    • When in ‘herding mode’ the overall heading of the population is calculated, and the agent that is closest to that heading is selected to be amplified by our trolls/bot army.
    • The weight is increased to X, and the radius is increased to Y.
      • X represents AMPLIFICATION BY trolls, bots, etc.
      • A large Y means that the bots can swamp other, normally closer signals. This models the effect of a monolithic entity controlling thousands of bots across the belief space

Here’s a screenshot of the running simulation. There is an additional set of controls at the upper left that allow herding to be enables, and the weight of the influence to be set. In this case, the herding weight is 10. Though the screenshot shows one large agent shape, the amplified shape flits from agent to agent, always keeping closest to the average heading.

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The results are kind of scary. If I set the weight of the herder to 15, I can change the change the flocking behavior of the default to echo chamber.

  • Normal: No Herding
  • Herding weight set to 15, other options the same: HerdingWeight15

I did some additional tweaking to see if having highly-weighted herders ignore each other (they would be coordinated through C&C) would have any effect. It doesn’t. There is enough interaction through the regular populations to keep the alignment space reduced.

It looks like there is a ‘sick echo chamber’ pattern. If the borders are reflective, and the herding weight + influence radius is great enough, then a wall-hugging pattern will emerge.

The influence weight is sort of a credibility score. An agent that has a lot of followers, or says a lot of the things that I agree with has a lot of influence weight The range weight is reach.

Since a troll farm or botnet can be regarded as a single organization,  interacting with any one of the agents is really interacting with the root entity.  So a herding agent has high influence and high reach. The high reach explains the border hugging behavior.

It’s like there’s someone at the back of the stampede yelling YOUR’E GOING THE RIGHT WAY! KEEP AT IT! And they never go off the cliff because they are a swarm Or, it never goes of the cliff, because it manifests as a swarm.

A loud, distributed voice pointing in a bad direction means wall hugging. Note that there is some kind of floating point error that lets wall huggers creep off the edge.Edgecrawling

With a respawn border, we get the situation where the overall heading of the flock doesn’t change even as it gets destroyed as it goes over the border. Again, since the herding algorithm is looking at the overall population, it never crosses the border but influences all the respawned agents to head towards the same edge: DirectionPreserving

Who’d have thought that there could be something worse than runaway polarization?

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The Gamergate model of press relations

This is good enough that I’m reposting the entire thing. The original is here.

PRESSTHINK, a project of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, is written by Jay Rosen

I remember the first time I heard about Gamergate. A random follower on Twitter asked me if I had been following the story, which he said was “about ethics in games journalism.” No, I had not been following the story. In all innocence, I clicked on the link he sent me and tried to make sense of what I read. I failed. The events it described were impenetrable to me. (Disclosure: I am not a gamer.)

Eventually I learned what Gamergate really was. The more I learned, the more depressed I felt. The people who promoted Gamergate said they were concerned about journalism ethics. As a professor of journalism with a social media bent, I felt obligated to examine their claims. When I did I discovered nasty troll behavior with a hard edge of misogyny. “It’s about ethics in games journalism” became an internet joke. Deservedly so.

Recently Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed’s news operation, wrote: “The big story of 2014 was Gamergate, the misogynistic movement championed by Breitbart and covered primarily by new media. That turned out to be a better predictor of the presidential election than any rubber chicken dinner in Iowa (or poll by a once-reputable pollster).”

Ben is right. The Gamergate model in press relations posits that high-risk tactics should not be ruled out of consideration. It says that rejection and ridicule by the mainstream media can be a massive plus, because events like these activate — and motivate  — your most committed supporters: your trolls. The Gamergate model proposes that transgressing the norms of American democracy is not some crippling defect, as previously believed, but a distinct advantage because the excitement around the transgression recruits new players to the fight, and guarantees the spread of your content.

The Gamergate model anticipates that the mainstream press will freak out. Full stop. And it seeks to profit from this reaction. What the traditional press considers negative publicity is, from the Gamergate point of view, a kind of gift to The Leader. Trump and his advisors have absorbed these lessons. Gamergate is thus one possible template for the future of White House-press corps relations. Those who have not studied it carefully will be at a distinct disadvantage.

Filter bubbles, echo chambers, and online news consumption

Filter bubbles, echo chambers, and online news consumption

  • Seth R. Flaxman – I am currently undertaking a postdoc with Yee Whye Teh at Oxford in the computational statistics and machine learning group in the Department of Statistics. My research is on scalable methods and flexible models for spatiotemporal statistics and Bayesian machine learning, applied to public policy and social science areas including crime, emotion, and public health. I helped make a very accessible animation answering the question, What is Machine Learning?
  • Sharad Goel – I’m an Assistant Professor at Stanford in the Department of Management Science & Engineering (in the School of Engineering). I also have courtesy appointments in Sociology and Computer Science. My primary area of research is computational social science, an emerging discipline at the intersection of computer science, statistics, and the social sciences. I’m particularly interested in applying modern computational and statistical techniques to understand and improve public policy.
  • Justin M. Rao – I am a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research. A member of our New York City lab, an interdisciplinary research group combining social science with computational and theoretical methods, I am currently located at company HQ in the Seattle area, where I am also an Affiliate Professor of Economics at the University of Washington.
  • Spearman’s Rank-Order Correlation
  • Goel, Mason, and Watts (2010) show that a substantial fraction of ties in online social networks are between individuals on opposite sides of the political spectrum, opening up the possibility for diverse content discovery. [p 299]
    • I think this helps in areas where flocking can occur. Changing heading is hardest when opinions are moving in opposite directions. Finding a variety of perspectives may change the dynamic.
  • Specifically, users who predominately visit left-leaning news outlets only very
    rarely read substantive news articles from conservative sites, and vice versa
    for right-leaning readers, an effect that is even more pronounced for opinion
    articles.

    • Is the range of information available from left or right-leaning sites different? Is there another way to look at the populations? I think it’s very easy to get polarized left or right, but seeking diversity is different, and may have a pattern of seeking less polarized voices?
  • Interestingly, exposure to opposing perspectives is higher for the
    channels associated with the highest segregation, search, and social. Thus,
    counterintuitively, we find evidence that recent technological changes both
    increase and decrease various aspects of the partisan divide.

    • To me this follows, because anti belief helps in the polarization process.
  • We select an initial universe of news outlets (i.e., web domains) via the Open Directory Project (ODP, dmoz.org), a collective of tens of thousands of editors who hand-label websites into a classification hierarchy. This gives 7,923 distinct domains labeled as news, politics/news, politics/media, and regional/news. Since the vast majority of these news sites receive relatively little traffic,
    •  Still a good option for mapping. Though I’d like to compare with schema.org
  • Specifically, our primary analysis is based on the subset of users who have read at least ten substantive news articles and at least two opinion pieces in the three-month time frame we consider. This first requirement reduces our initial sample of 1.2 million individuals to 173,450 (14 percent of the total); the second requirement further reduces the sample to 50,383 (4 percent of the total). These numbers are generally lower than past estimates, likely because of our focus on substantive news and opinion (which excludes sports, entertainment, and other soft news), and our explicit activity measures (as opposed to self-reports).
    • Good indicator of explore-exploit in the user population at least in the context of news.
  • We now define the polarity of an individual to be the typical polarity of the news outlet that he or she visits. We then define segregation to be the expected distance between the polarity scores of two randomly selected users. This definition of segregation, which is in line with past work (Dandekar, Goel, and Lee 2013), intuitively captures the idea that segregated populations are those in which pairs of individuals are, on average, far apart.
    • This fits nicely with my notion of belief space
  • ideological-segregation-across-channels
    • This is interesting. Figure 3 shows that aggregators and direct (which have some level of external curation, are substantially less polarized than the social and search-based channels. That’s a good indicator that the visible information horizon makes a difference in what is accessed.
  • our findings do suggest that the relatively recent ability to instantly query large corpora of news articles—vastly expanding users’ choice sets—contributes to increased ideological segregation
    • The frictionlessness of being able to find exactly what you want to see, without being exposed to things that you disagree with.
  • In particular, that level of segregation corresponds to the ideological distance between Fox News and Daily Kos, which represents meaningful differences in coverage (Baum and Groeling 2008) but is within the mainstream political spectrum. Consequently, though the predicted filter bubble and echo chamber mechanisms do appear to increase online segregation, their overall effects at this time are somewhat limited.
    • But this depends on how opinion is moving. We are always redefining normal. It would also be good to look at the news producers using this approach…?
  • This finding of within-user ideological concentration is driven in part by the fact that individuals often simply turn to a single news source for information: 78 percent of users get the majority of their news from a single publication, and 94 percent get a majority from at most two sources. …even when individuals visit a variety of news outlets, they are, by and large, frequenting publications with similar ideological perspectives.
  • opposingpartisanexposure
    • Although I think focussing on ‘opposing’ rather than ‘diverse’ biases these results, this still shows that populations of users behave differently, and that the channel has a distinct effect.
  • …relatively high within-user variation is a product of reading a variety of centrist and right-leaning outlets, and not exposure to truly ideologically diverse content.
    • So left leaning is more diverse across ideology
  • the outlets that dominate partisan news coverage are still relatively mainstream, ranging from the New York Times on the left to Fox News on the right; the more extreme ideological sites (e.g., Breitbart), which presumably benefited from the rise of online publishing, do not appear to qualitatively impact the dynamics of news consumption.

Modeling The Law of Group Polarization

INTRODUCTION

The the detection of echo chambers and information bubbles is becoming increasingly relevant in this new era of personalized information and ‘fake news’. However, the behavior of groups of individuals has been researched since Le Bon’s 1896 book ‘The Crowd’ Of crowds, he states that ‘one of their general characteristics was an excessive suggestibility, and we have shown to what an extent suggestions are contagious in every human agglomeration; a fact which explains the rapid turning of the sentiments of a crowd in a definite direction’ (Le Bon, 2009, p. 28).  The existence of this phenomenon was demonstrated in studies by Moscovici and Doise who showed that the consensus reached will be most extreme with less cohesive, homogeneous groups [Moscovici, Doise, & Halls, 1994].

Cass Sunstein described these tendencies as The Law of Group Polarization, which states that members of a deliberating  group  predictably  move  toward  a  more  extreme  point  in  the direction  indicated  by  the  members’  predeliberation  tendencies. (Sunstein, 2002, p 176). Sunstein further states that:

  1. A deliberating group, asked to make a  group  decision, will  shift toward  a more  extreme  point  in the  direction  indicated  by the median predeliberation judgment.
  2. the tendency of individuals who compose a  deliberating group, if polled  anonymously  after  discussion, will  be to shift toward a more  extreme  point in the  direction indicated  by the median predeliberation judgment
  3. The  effect  of deliberation is  both to  decrease  variance  among  group  members,  as  individual differences  diminish,  and  also  to  produce  convergence  on  a  relatively  more extreme  point among predeliberation judgments
  4. people  are  less  likely  to  shift  if  the  direction advocated  is  being  pushed  by  unfriendly  group  members;  the  likelihood  of  a shift,  and its likely size,  are  increased when  people  perceive fellow  members as friendly,  likeable,  and  similar  to  them
  5. there  will  be  depolarization  if  and  when  new  persuasive  arguments  are offered  that  are  opposite  to  the  direction  initially favored  by  group  members. There  is  evidence  for  this  phenomenon.
  6. Excluded  by  choice  or coercion from  discussion with others, such  groups  may become  polarized  in quite  extreme  directions,  often  in  part  because  of  group polarization.

Similar social interactions have been modeled in the agent-based simulation community using opinion dynamics, voter and flocking models.  In this paper, I attempt to model Sunstein’s statements using agents navigating within a multidimensional information space where the amount of social influence is controlled. The results of these experiments are a set of identifiable behaviors that range from random walks to tight clusters that resemble the polarized groups described by Sunstein and others.

APPROACH

The intuition behind this research is that group polarization appears to reproduce certain aspects of flocking behavior, but in information space, where individuals can hold overlapping opinions across a large numbers of dimensions. In other words, individuals within a certain ‘Social Horizon’ (SH) of each other should be capable of influencing each other’s orientation and speed in that space. The closer the heading and speed, the easier to align completely to a nearby neighbor. If the speed and particular the orientation is not closely aligned, there will not be as much on an opportunity to ‘join the flock’. These three factors – proximity, speed and heading appear sufficient to address Sunstein’s statements from the introduction.

Animal flocking has been shown to represent a form of group cognition [Deneubourg & Goss. 1989] [Petit et. al. 2010]. We chose the Reynolds boids flocking model  [Reynolds 1987] as the basis for our model, which was developed to work in any number of dimensions greater than one. We further modified the boids algorithm to have each agent only calculate its next position with respect to the other visible agent’s heading and speed without a collision avoidance term.

N-dimensional position was handled as a set of named variables that could vary continuously on an arbitrary interval similarly to the Opinion Dynamics models of Krause [Hegselmann & Krause, 2002], but extended to multiple dimensions. For this initial work, each ‘social dimension’ was considered equivalent. This allowed the straightforward implementation of distance-based cluster detection using DBSCAN [Ester, et al 1996]. Social distance interactions across dissimilar spaces have been discussed by  Bogunia [2004] and Schwammle [2007] and show that this approach can be extended to more sophisticated environments. Since agents in this simulation also have an orientation, n-dimensional heading was handled in a similar way. We developed a platform for interactively exploring the simulation space or performing repeatable experiments in batch mode

INITIAL RESULTS

Initial experiments were done in 2 dimensions for ease of visualization and understanding. Very rapidly, we were able to see that agent behavior manifested in three phases by varying only the parameter that controlled the ‘social horizon radius’, which is the distance that one agent can ‘see’ another agent. The influence of neighboring agents falls off linearly as a function of distance until the horizon radius is reached. This follows Sunstein’s statement that ‘the  likelihood  of  a shift,  and its likely size,  are  increased when  people  perceive fellow  members as friendly,  likeable,  and  similar  to  them‘ [pp 181].

For the simulation runs, agents were initialized on a range of (-1.0, 1.0) on each dimension. A reflective barrier was placed at (-2.0, 2.0). This reflects the intuition that many concepts have inherent limits. For example in fashion, a skirt can only be so low or so high [Curran 1999]. The three phases can be seen in figures 1 – 3 below. In each figure, a screenshot of the mature state is shown on the left. On the right are traces of the distance of each agent from the center of the n-dimensional space. These particular simulations took place in 2D for easier visualization in the screenshots.

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Figure 1: Zero SH – No social interaction and no emergent behaviors

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Figure 2 : Limited SH Radius (0.2) with emergent flocks and rich interaction.

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Figure 3: ‘Infinite’ SH (10.0) with strong group polarization

The first phase is determined entirely by the random generation of the agents. They continue along their paths until they encounter the containing barrier and are reflected back in . The resulting chart shows this random behavior and no emergent pattern. The second phase is the richest, characterised by the emergence of ‘flocks’ that can be discriminated using DBSCAN (each color is a cluster, while white is unaffiliated). Interestingly, the flocks tend to orbit near the center of the space. This makes sense, as any agent offering attraction is on average spending most of its time nearer the center of the stage than the edges. The third phase represents a good example of Sunstein’s definitions. All agents become aligned and each agent as well as the average belief become more extreme over time. The only thing that interferes with the polarized group heading off into infinity is the reflective boundary.

To verify that these patterns emerge involving higher dimensions, simulation runs were performed for up to 10 dimensions. The only adjustment that needed to be incorporated  is that the social horizon distance is influenced by the number of dimensions. Since distance is the sum of the squares in each dimension, we found that the ‘social radius’ had to be multiplied by the square root of the number of dimensions used to produce the same effect. once appropriately adjusted, the same three phases emerged.

We also examined the effects of having populations with different social horizons. Multiple studies across different disciplines ranging from neurology [Cohen et. al. 2007] to computer-human interaction [Munson & Resnick 2010] have shown that populations often have explorer and exploiter subgroups. In game theory, this is known as the multi-armed bandit problem, which explores how to make decisions using incomplete information [Burnetas & Katehakis 1997]. Does the gambler stay with a particular machine (exploit) or go find a different one (explore). The most effective strategies revolve around a majority exploit/minority explore pattern. In the case of the simulation, 10% of the population were given zero SH, which let them explore the environment unhindered, while the other 90% were given the highest SH, which in prior runs had resulted in the group polarization of figure 3. These values reflect the numbers found in the above studies as well as the percentage of diverse news consumers found by Flaxman, Goel and Rao in their study of weblogs [Flaxman et. al. 2016]

The results of mixing these populations was startling. Although still tightly clustered, the ‘exploit’ group would rarely interact with the simulation boundary and would instead be pulled back towards the center by the presence of the ‘explorers’

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Figure 4: Two populations interacting (10% Zero SH and 90% Infinite SH)

DISCUSSION [designing interfaces for populations]

This study shows that it is possible to implement many of the claims of Cass Sunstein’s Law of Group Polarization using a simple flocking agent-based model. By manipulating only the ‘social horizon radius’, behaviors ranging from random to flocking to polarizing group were produced. Surprisingly, the introduction of even a small number of ‘explorers’ with diverse positions in the information space were capable of sufficiently influencing the behavior of the polarized ‘exploiters’ that they would bend back towards the central areas of the information space.

This work also refines the idea of Group Polarization in that polarization need not be linear – it can curve and meander under the influence of other individuals. Indeed, one need only look at the recent switch in regard to Vladimir Putin by American right wing politics to see that this can manifest in reality as well. If influence from diverse sources  can change extremely polarized behavior and keep it more ‘centered’, then perhaps the design of our search interfaces should reflect the ability to explore by some users and then in turn use that exploration as a means of influencing more polarized groups. Currently, most work in information retrieval from Search to Social Networks is to provide the most relevant information to the user. This research implies that it may be even more important to provide diverse information.

REFERENCES

Deneubourg, Jean-Louis, and Simon Goss. “Collective patterns and decision-making.” Ethology Ecology & Evolution 1.4 (1989): 295-311.

Petit, Odile, and Richard Bon. “Decision-making processes: the case of collective movements.” Behavioural Processes 84.3 (2010): 635-647.

Reynolds, Craig W. “Flocks, herds and schools: A distributed behavioral model.” ACM SIGGRAPH computer graphics 21.4 (1987): 25-34.

Hegselmann, Rainer, and Ulrich Krause. “Opinion dynamics and bounded confidence models, analysis, and simulation.” Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 5.3 (2002).

Ester, Martin, et al. “A density-based algorithm for discovering clusters in large spatial databases with noise.” Kdd. Vol. 96. No. 34. 1996.

Curran, Louise. “An analysis of cycles in skirt lengths and widths in the UK and Germany, 1954-1990.” Clothing and Textiles Research Journal 17.2 (1999): 65-72.

Cohen, Jonathan D., Samuel M. McClure, and J. Yu Angela. “Should I stay or should I go? How the human brain manages the trade-off between exploitation and exploration.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 362.1481 (2007): 933-942.

Munson, Sean A., and Paul Resnick. “Presenting diverse political opinions: how and how much.” Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems. ACM, 2010.

Burnetas, Apostolos N., and Michael N. Katehakis. “Optimal adaptive policies for Markov decision processes.” Mathematics of Operations Research 22.1 (1997): 222-255.

Flaxman, Seth, Sharad Goel, and Justin Rao. “Filter bubbles, echo chambers, and online news consumption.” Public Opinion Quarterly (2016): nfw006.

Notes——————————————

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The Law of Group Polarization

Cass R. Sunstein is currently the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard. From 2009 to 2012, he was Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He is the founder and director of the Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy at Harvard Law School.

Relevant flocking and collective decision making papers:

Relevant Sociophysics papers:

Machine learning to classify agents:

The following are what I consider to be the most pertinent statements in the paper, and a discussion of modelling, measurements and potential implications

In brief, group polarization means that members of a deliberating  group  predictably  move  toward  a  more  extreme  point  in  the direction  indicated  by  the  members’  predeliberation  tendencies. [pp 176]

Note that this statement has two different implications. First, a deliberating group, asked to make a  group  decision, will  shift toward  a more  extreme  point  in the  direction  indicated  by the median predeliberation judgment. Second, the tendency of individuals who compose a  deliberating group, if polled  anonymously  after  discussion, will  be to shift toward a more  extreme  point in the  direction indicated  by the median predeliberation judgment. [pp 176]

Notably,  groups consisting  of  individuals with extremist tendencies are more likely to shift,  and likely  to  shift  more  (a  point  that  bears  on  the  wellsprings  of  violence  and terrorism);  the same is  true for groups with some kind of salient shared identity (like  Republicans,  Democrats,  and lawyers,  but unlike jurors and experimental subjects). When  like-minded people  are  participating  in  “iterated  polarization games” -when  they  meet  regularly,  without sustained  exposure  to  competing views- extreme movements are all the more likely. [pp 176]

One of my largest purposes is to cast light on enclave deliberation,  a  process that I understand to involve deliberation among like-minded people who talk or even  live,  much  of  the  time,  in  isolated  enclaves.  I  will  urge  that  enclave deliberation is, simultaneously, a  potential danger to social stability, a source of social fragmentation or even violence, and a safeguard against social injustice and unreasonableness [pp 177]

Without  a place for enclave deliberation, citizens in the broader public sphere may move  in certain directions,  even  extreme directions, precisely  because opposing voices are not heard at all [pp 177]

Though standard, the term “group polarization” is somewhat misleading. It is not meant to suggest that group members will shift to the poles, nor does it refer to an increase in variance among groups, though this may be the ultimate result. Instead the term refers to a  predictable shift within a group discussing a  case or problem. As the shift occurs,  groups,  and group  members,  move  and coalesce, not toward the  middle  of antecedent  dispositions,  but toward a  more  extreme position  in  the  direction  indicated  by  those  dispositions.  The  effect  of deliberation is  both to  decrease  variance  among  group  members,  as  individual differences  diminish,  and  also  to  produce  convergence  on  a  relatively  more extreme  point among predeliberation judgments. [pp 178]

It  is possible that when people are making judgments individually, they err on the side of caution,  expressing  a  view in the  direction  that they really  hold,  but stating that view  cautiously,  for  fear  of seeming  extreme.  Once  other  people  express supportive views,  the  relevant inhibition disappears,  and people feel  free  to say what,  in  a  sense,  they  really  believe.  There  appears to  be  no  direct test  of this hypothesis,  but it is reasonable  to  believe  that the  phenomenon plays  a  role  in group polarization and choice shifts. [pp 180]

First,  it matters a  great  deal  whether  people  consider  themselves  part  of  the  same  social group  as the  other members;  a  sense of shared identity will heighten the shift, and  a  belief  that  identity  is  not shared will reduce  and  possibly  eliminate  it. Second,  deliberating  groups  will  tend  to  depolarize  if they  consist  of equally opposed  subgroups  and  if  members  have  a  degree  of  flexibility  in  their positions. [pp 180]

Hence  people  are  less  likely  to  shift  if  the  direction advocated  is  being  pushed  by  unfriendly  group  members;  the  likelihood  of  a shift,  and its likely size,  are  increased when  people  perceive fellow  members as friendly,  likeable,  and  similar  to  them. [pp 181]

  • This is handled in the model by having a position and heading in the n-dimensional belief space. Two agents may occupy the same space, but unless they are travelling in the same direction or the social influence horizon is very large, there will not be sufficient time to overcome the orientation of the agents (slew rate)

…it  has  been  found  to  matter  whether  people  think  of themselves,  antecedently  or  otherwise,  as  part  of a  group  having  a  degree  of solidarity. If they think of themselves  in this way,  group  polarization is  all the more likely,  and it is  likely  too to  be  more  extreme. Thus when the  context emphasizes  each  person’s  membership  in  the  social  group  engaging  in deliberation,  polarization  increases. [pp 181]

  • The model shows this as the ‘tightness’ of the group, which can be described also as the variance of distance or angle measures.

 Depolarization and deliberation  without shifts. … In  fact  the  persuasive  arguments  theory  implies that  there  will  be  depolarization  if  and  when  new  persuasive  arguments  are offered  that  are  opposite  to  the  direction  initially favored  by  group  members. There  is  evidence  for  this  phenomenon. [pp 181]

  • The model shows something slightly different. As long as there is a sufficient diversity of visible opinion, the polarized flock is influenced back towards the center of the (bounded) belief space

“familiar  and  long debated issues  do  not depolarize  easily.” With respect to such issues,  people are simply  less  likely  to  shift at all.  And when one or more  people  in a  group know the right answer to  a  factual  question,  the  group is  likely to shift in the direction  of accuracy [pp 182]

  • For future work. Agents that have associated over a period of time can be more attracted to each other, creating greater inertia and mimicking this effect.
  • From Presenting Diverse Political Opinions: How and How Much: In interviews with users of several online political spaces, Stromer-Galley found that those participants sought out diverse opinions  and enjoyed the range of opinions they encountered online [20]. A study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project during the 2004 election season found that, overall, Americans were not using the Internet to access only supporting materials [8]. Instead, Internet users were more aware  than non-Internet users of a range of political arguments, including those that challenged their own positions and preferences.
    • The model divides groups into explorers (diversity seekers) and exploiters (Confirmers and Avoiders). These behave differently with respect to how much they pay attention to their social influence horizons.

Group polarization has particular implications for insulated “outgroups” and (in the  extreme  case)  for  the  treatment  of  conspiracies.  Recall  that  polarization increases when group members identify themselves along some salient dimension, and especially when the group is able to define itself by contrast to another group. Outgroups  are  in  this  position-of  self-contrast  to  others-by  definition. Excluded  by  choice  or coercion from  discussion with others, such  groups  may become  polarized  in quite  extreme  directions,  often  in  part  because  of  group polarization. It is for this reason that outgroup members can sometimes be led, or lead themselves, to  violent acts [pp 184]

  • Note the “salient dimension”
  • Anti-belief is designed in, but disabled at this point. Future work
  • Exclusion from other groups can be modelled as only disabling intra-group communication “allow interaction” check

The  central  problem is  that widespread  error  and  social  fragmentation  are likely to result when like-minded people, insulated from others, move in extreme directions simply because of limited  argument pools and parochial influences. As an  extreme  example,  consider  a  system  of  one-party  domination,  which  stifles dissent in part because  it refuses to establish space for the emergence of divergent positions;  in  this way,  it  intensifies  polarization  within  the  party  while  also disabling  external  criticism[pp 186]

  • Domination is modeled here by increasing the radius of social interaction such that all agents are visible to all other agents. This does result in the maximization of polarization.

A certain measure of isolation will, in some cases, be crucial to the development of ideas and approaches that would not otherwise  emerge  and  that deserve  a social hearing. [pp 186]

  • Limiting the radius of social interaction provides this capability in the model. Low, non-zero values provide conditions for the emergence of individual flocks, identifiable by DBSCAN clustering, which identifies clusters using density measures rather than an a priori determination of the number of clusters to find.

Answering Sunstein’s Questions

If people are shifting their position in  order to maintain their reputation and self-conception, before groups that may or may  not be representative of the public  as a whole, is there  any reason to  think that  deliberation is  making things  better rather  than worse? [pp 187]

  • The model implies that visibility between deliberating groups may providing a “restoring force” that brings all groups to a more moderate position that exists between destructive/reflective boundaries (not sure what would happen with “sticky” boundaries). As an aside here, the movement of the lethal boundaries should result in a movement of the average center of the population.

Implications for Design

By  contrast,  those who  believe  that  “destabilization”  is  an intrinsic  good,  or that the status  quo contains sufficient injustice that it is worthwhile to incur the risks of encouraging polarization on the part of diverse groups, will, or should, be  drawn to a system that enthusiastically promotes insular deliberation within enclaves [pp 191]

  • The internet seems in many ways to have evolved into a system that encourages destabilization (disruption) and the creation of many isolated groups. The level of this seems to have become dangerous to the cohesion of society as a whole, where the acceptance of “alternative facts” is now an accepted political reality. Changing that design so that there is more visibility to the wider range of points of view could bring back moderation.

The  constraints  of  time  and  attention  call  for  limits  to heterogeneity; and-a separate point-for good deliberation to take place, some views  are properly placed off the  table, simply because  time  is  limited and they are so  invidious,  implausible,  or both.  This  point might seem  to  create  a  final conundrum: To know what points of view should be represented in any group deliberation,  it  is  important  to  have  a  good  sense  of  the  substantive  issues involved,  indeed a  sufficiently  good sense  as to  generate judgments about what points of view must be included and excluded. But if we already know that, why should we  not proceed directly to  the  merits?  If we  already  know that,  before deliberation occurs, does deliberation have any point at all? [pp 193]

  • It’s not that heterogeneity needs to be limited per se. There does need to be a mechanism that provides sufficient visibility across individuals and groups so that as a whole, society stares reasonably centered. The model shows that flocking can occur across arbitrarily high dimensions, but that the information distance increases as a function of the number of dimensions. Computer-Mediated communication might be able to address this issue by projecting high-dimensional sets of concepts and projecting them into spaces (e.g. self-organizing maps) that can be navigated by individuals and groups of human users. The goal is to recognize and encourage particular types of flocking behaviors while providing enough credible visibility to counter information so that this interaction of flocks of flocks stays within the bounds that support a healthy society.

Some good parts, kind of integrated

We are packing up, so I’m done for now. Progress has been pretty good. The core parts of the posting module are done, though they are not yet managed by a “topic manager” or some similar. I have YUI talking via PHP to MySQL, sending objects that contain data that will be needed in a structured way. That turned out to be much harder than I thought, simply because I couldn’t make the debugger in IntelleJ work in the PHP server file in such a way that I could watch an HTTP request come in. In olden days, I would have RTFM about the process and worked from that, but now with OpenSource, I’ve become very dependent on the debugger to tell me what’s actually going on. Many times things don’t correspond with (often stale) documentation. So in the end, I put together a light PHP class that pretty much echoed POST calls back at me so that I could look at them in the JavaScript debugger. That burned a day. Sigh.

The last (new) thing to do is to make the database access robust. I did my code based on Learning PHP, MySQL, and JavaScript, a generally fine book, but it still uses the deprecated “mysql_*” calls. I need to update that and have some generalized data return structures built. Then that part should be reasonably static from here on out.

Version 1!

  • Writing out files – done with CSV, not sure if we need the xml yet. Here’s what a session result looks like:
    Data!
    Data!
  • Trying to copy the executable over to another machine. First, the app failed to launch until I installed the end-user directX package. Now, it fails to start the XAudio2 engine. Trying the full install.
  • Built a release version. That may be better?
  • Well, it was either the full SDK install or the release build, but it works. I’m betting that it was the release build, since the debug dlls aren’t included in the DirectX end user package and I may have been referencing those.
  • Everything is now on the laptop for tomorrow’s meeting 🙂
  • Oh yeah, and I need to change the versionversion1