Populism and Polarization in Social Media Without Fake News: The Vicious Circle of Biases, Beliefs and Network Homophily

42 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2020

See all articles by Zaruhi Hakobyan

Zaruhi Hakobyan

National Research University Higher School of Economics; Universite du Luxembourg - Luxembourg School of Finance

Christos Koulovatianos

Department of Finance, University of Luxembourg

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Date Written: April 7, 2020

Abstract

We build a model of network dynamics with decision-making under incomplete information in order to understand the determinants of the observed gradual downgrading of expert opinion on complicated issues and the decreasing trust in science. We suggest a search and matching mechanism behind network formation of friends, claiming that the internet has made search and matching less costly and more intensive. According to our simulations, just combining the internet's ease of forming networks with (a) individual biases, such as confirmation bias or assimilation bias, and (b) people's tendency to align their actions with those of peers, can lead to populist dynamics over time through a vicious circle. Even without fake news, biases lead to more network homophily and, over time, more homophily leads to actions that put more weight on biases and less weight on expert opinion. Networks make fundamental biases be enhanced by peer-induced amplification factors, a finding suggesting that education should perhaps focus on mitigating fundamental biases by promoting evidence-based attitudes towards complicated social and scientific issues.

Keywords: networkdynamics,internet,higher-orderbeliefs, learning, expert opinions, biasedassimilation, confirmation bias

JEL Classification: D85, D83, D82, D72, C78

Suggested Citation

Hakobyan, Zaruhi and Koulovatianos, Christos, Populism and Polarization in Social Media Without Fake News: The Vicious Circle of Biases, Beliefs and Network Homophily (April 7, 2020). Higher School of Economics Research Paper No. WP BRP 227/EC/2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3570384 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3570384

Zaruhi Hakobyan (Contact Author)

National Research University Higher School of Economics ( email )

Myasnitskaya street, 20
Moscow, Moscow 119017
Russia

Universite du Luxembourg - Luxembourg School of Finance ( email )

162a, avenue de la Faïencerie
Luxembourg-Limpertsberg, L-1511
Luxembourg

Christos Koulovatianos

Department of Finance, University of Luxembourg ( email )

4 Rue Albert Borschette
Luxembourg, L-1246
Luxembourg

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