Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Computer Engineering and Computer Science

Degree Program

Computer Science and Engineering, PhD

Committee Chair

Nasraoui, Olfa

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Frigui, Hichem

Committee Member

Frigui, Hichem

Committee Member

Yampolskiy, Roman

Committee Member

Altiparmak, Nihat

Committee Member

Sanders, Scott

Author's Keywords

data mining; web mining; recommender system; polarization


This dissertation is about filtering and discovering information online while using recommender systems. In the first part of our research, we study the phenomenon of polarization and its impact on filtering and discovering information. Polarization is a social phenomenon, with serious consequences, in real-life, particularly on social media. Thus it is important to understand how machine learning algorithms, especially recommender systems, behave in polarized environments. We study polarization within the context of the users' interactions with a space of items and how this affects recommender systems. We first formalize the concept of polarization based on item ratings and then relate it to the item reviews, when available. We then propose a domain independent data science pipeline to automatically detect polarization using the ratings rather than the properties, typically used to detect polarization, such as item's content or social network topology. We perform an extensive comparison of polarization measures on several benchmark data sets and show that our polarization detection framework can detect different degrees of polarization and outperforms existing measures in capturing an intuitive notion of polarization. We also investigate and uncover certain peculiar patterns that are characteristic of environments where polarization emerges: A machine learning algorithm finds it easier to learn discriminating models in polarized environments: The models will quickly learn to keep each user in the safety of their preferred viewpoint, essentially, giving rise to filter bubbles and making them easier to learn. After quantifying the extent of polarization in current recommender system benchmark data, we propose new counter-polarization approaches for existing collaborative filtering recommender systems, focusing particularly on the state of the art models based on Matrix Factorization. Our work represents an essential step toward the new research area concerned with quantifying, detecting and counteracting polarization in human-generated data and machine learning algorithms.We also make a theoretical analysis of how polarization affects learning latent factor models, and how counter-polarization affects these models. In the second part of our dissertation, we investigate the problem of discovering related information by recommendation of tags on social media micro-blogging platforms. Real-time micro-blogging services such as Twitter have recently witnessed exponential growth, with millions of active web users who generate billions of micro-posts to share information, opinions and personal viewpoints, daily. However, these posts are inherently noisy and unstructured because they could be in any format, hence making them difficult to organize for the purpose of retrieval of relevant information. One way to solve this problem is using hashtags, which are quickly becoming the standard approach for annotation of various information on social media, such that varied posts about the same or related topic are annotated with the same hashtag. However hashtags are not used in a consistent manner and most importantly, are completely optional to use. This makes them unreliable as the sole mechanism for searching for relevant information. We investigate mechanisms for consolidating the hashtag space using recommender systems. Our methods are general enough that they can be used for hashtag annotation in various social media services such as twitter, as well as for general item recommendations on systems that rely on implicit user interest data such as e-learning and news sites, or explicit user ratings, such as e-commerce and online entertainment sites. To conclude, we propose a methodology to extract stories based on two types of hashtag co-occurrence graphs. Our research in hashtag recommendation was able to exploit the textual content that is available as part of user messages or posts, and thus resulted in hybrid recommendation strategies. Using content within this context can bridge polarization boundaries. However, when content is not available, is missing, or is unreliable, as in the case of platforms that are rich in multimedia and multilingual posts, the content option becomes less powerful and pure collaborative filtering regains its important role, along with the challenges of polarization.