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Controlling Polarization in Personalization: An Algorithmic Framework

L. Elisa Celis, Sayash Kapoor, Farnood Salehi, Nisheeth Vishnoi

Personalization is pervasive in the online space as it leads to higher efficiency for the user and higher revenue for the platform by individualizing the most relevant content for each user. However, recent studies suggest that such personalization can learn and propagate systemic biases and polarize opinions; this has led to calls for regulatory mechanisms and algorithms that are constrained to combat bias and the resulting echo-chamber effect. We propose a versatile framework that allows for the possibility to reduce polarization in personalized systems by allowing the user to constrain the distribution from which content is selected. We then present a scalable algorithm with provable guarantees that satisfies the given constraints on the types of the content that can be displayed to a user, but -- subject to these constraints -- will continue to learn and personalize the content in order to maximize utility. We illustrate this framework on a curated dataset of online news articles that are conservative or liberal, show that it can control polarization, and examine the trade-off between decreasing polarization and the resulting loss to revenue. We further exhibit the flexibility and scalability of our approach by framing the problem in terms of the more general diverse content selection problem and test it empirically on both a News dataset and the MovieLens dataset.

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