Homophily within the social web

Written by Gediminas Borisas (gbo015)

Take a minute to reflect on your friends. You and your friends have a lot of things in common which makes sense as to why you are friends in the first place. Those things could be unalterable like gender, nationality, ethnicity, or alterable like interests, appearance or political views. A presence of common outcome in these notions give a significance for a friendship. In other words, having interests in similar subjects with other people make it more likely for you to befriend them.

“The advent of new technologies like print, the telegraph, the telephone, and e-mail may have loosened the bounds of geography by lowering the effort involved in contact (Kaufer & Carley 1993), but these new modes have certainly not eliminated the old pattern; Verbrugge (1983) still finds that residential proximity is the single best predictor of how often friends get together to socialize.” (McPherson et al., 2001, p. 430)

One of the main causes of homophily is space. People are more likely to make connections with the people closest to them physically. One would think that the online social networks like Facebook, Twitter and such would negate this cause or at least have a great impact on it. However, this is not the case. According to research done by Huang et al (2009) showed that people who were playing in an Online Role-Playing Game Everquest tended to interact with people of not only similar age or experience, but also with people who located themselves nearby in the real world.

Social media giants like Facebook, uses algorithms to determine what kind of information reaches the user. News feed, friend suggestions, Events and more. With some input from the user, the information is computed through an algorithm which determines whether the it is relevant to the user or not. This results in a form of an “echo chamber”. An echo chamber is a result of when a group of people only interact within similar ideas and subjects, without having to face an opposing way of thinking.

By enabling people to unfollow or hide information from their news feed, they become no longer faced with conflicting logic. This is another way of saying that people are free to choose what they want to see. Seeing and hearing what one wishes can ensue a misrepresentation of information in a form of facts. By surrounding oneself in a bubble of desirable information, one can no longer maintain being objective. This can lead to a form of segregation, where people arrange themselves into groups by separating each other.

What could be the ultimate solution for this phenomenon is still not entirely clear, but by continuing to gather dynamic data one can start to speculate reasonable solutions.

A possible solution to this silent epidemic would be exposure. People should know exactly how much homophily affects the information that they digest. Information that they hear, read or see can and most likely is altering their ideas with prejudice. This results in an echoing misinformation of chauvinistic data.

Another possible solution would be open-mindedness. By allowing people to receive information from various sources, they could maintain the factor of objectiveness. By questioning everything, a spark of thought would be generated, which later would lead to the need of debate and controversy. After all the whole idea of having a discussion, by stimulating opposing arguments, is to discover new truths and principles.

To conclude, the most feasible quick fix to this circumstance would be to integrate new and opposing ideas in various themes and topics such that each person would be met with at least some level of conflicting opinion. By opening to new possibilities people would increase the chances to develop contemporary concepts and solutions to both old and new subjects.



Easley, D. & Kleinberg, J. (2010). Networks, Crowds and Markets: Reasoning about a Highly Connected World. Cambridge University Press.

Huang, Y., Shen, C., Williams, D., & Contractor, N. (2009). Virtually There: Exploring Proximity and Homophily in a Virtual World. International Conference on Computational Science and Engineering, 4, 354–359.

McPherson, M., Smith-Lovin, L., Cook, J. M. (2001). Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks. Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 27, 415-444.