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Link recommendations: Their impact on network structure and minorities

Network-based people recommendation algorithms are widely employed on the Web to suggest new connections in social media or professional platforms. While such recommendations bring people together, the feedback loop between the algorithms and the changes in network structure may exacerbate social biases.

These biases include rich-get-richer effects, filter bubbles, and polarization. However, social networks are diverse complex systems and recommendations may affect them differently, depending on their structural properties.

In this work, we explore five people recommendation algorithms by systematically applying them over time to different synthetic networks. In particular, we measure to what extent these recommendations change the structure of bi-populated networks and show how these changes affect the minority group.

Our systematic experimentation helps to better understand when link recommendation algorithms are beneficial or harmful to minority groups in social networks.

In particular, our findings suggest that, while all algorithms tend to close triangles and increase cohesion, all algorithms except Node2Vec are prone to favor and suggest nodes with high in-degree. Furthermore, we found that, especially when both classes are heterophilic, recommendation algorithms can reduce the visibility of minorities.

A. Ferrara, L. Espin-Noboa, F. Karimi, C. Wagner, Link recommendations: Their impact on network structure and minorities, WebSci ’22: 14th ACM Web Science Conference 2022 223-238

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