Keywords: Social influence, networks, matrix factorization, probabilistic models
TL;DR: We formalize the estimation of social influence in networks as a causal inference, and propose a new method called Poisson Influence Factorization that estimates social influence from observational data.
Abstract: We consider the problem of estimating social influence, the effect that a person's behavior has on the future behavior of their peers. The key challenge is that shared behavior between friends could be equally explained by influence or by two other confounding factors: 1) latent traits that caused people to both become friends and engage in the behavior, and 2) latent preferences for the behavior. This paper addresses the challenges of estimating social influence with three contributions. First, we formalize social influence as a causal effect, one which requires inferences about hypothetical interventions. Second, we develop Poisson Influence Factorization (PIF), a method for estimating social influence from observational data. PIF fits probabilistic factor models to networks and behavior data to infer variables that serve as substitutes for the confounding latent traits. Third, we develop assumptions under which PIF recovers estimates of social influence. We empirically study PIF with semi-synthetic and real data from Last.fm, and conduct a sensitivity analysis. We find that PIF estimates social influence most accurately compared to related methods and remains robust under some violations of its assumptions.
Supplementary Material: zip
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