Opinion Dynamics via Search Engines (and Other Algorithmic Gatekeepers)

49 Pages Posted: 30 Dec 2016 Last revised: 12 Aug 2019

See all articles by Fabrizio Germano

Fabrizio Germano

Universitat Pompeu Fabra - Department of Economics and Business

Francesco Sobbrio

LUISS Guido Carli University; CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: August 1, 2019

Abstract

Ranking algorithms are the information gatekeepers of the Internet era. We develop a stylized model to study the interplay between a ranking algorithm and individual clicking behavior. We consider a search engine that uses an algorithm based on popularity and on personalization. The analysis shows the presence of a feedback effect, whereby individuals clicking on websites indirectly provide information about their private signals to successive searchers through the popularity-ranking algorithm. Accordingly, when individuals provide sufficiently positive feedback to the ranking algorithm, popularity-based rankings tend to aggregate information while personalization acts in the opposite direction. Moreover, we find that, under fairly general conditions, popularity-based rankings generate an advantage of the fewer effect: fewer websites reporting a given signal attract relatively more traffic overall. This highlights a novel, ranking-driven channel that can potentially explain the diffusion of misinformation, as websites reporting incorrect information may attract an amplified amount of traffic precisely because they are few.

Keywords: Ranking Algorithm, Information Aggregation, Asymptotic Learning, Popularity Ranking, Personalized Ranking, Misinformation, Fake News

JEL Classification: D83

Suggested Citation

Germano, Fabrizio and Sobbrio, Francesco, Opinion Dynamics via Search Engines (and Other Algorithmic Gatekeepers) (August 1, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2890853 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2890853

Fabrizio Germano

Universitat Pompeu Fabra - Department of Economics and Business ( email )

Ramon Trias Fargas 25-27
Barcelona, 08005
Spain
+34-93-542-2729 (Phone)
+34-93-542-1746 (Fax)

Francesco Sobbrio (Contact Author)

LUISS Guido Carli University ( email )

Viale Romania 32
Rome, Roma 00197
Italy

HOME PAGE: http://https://sites.google.com/site/francescosobbrio/

CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute) ( email )

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich, DE-81679
Germany

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