How much will Google influence the presidential election?

❝ Even if you don’t believe lizard people and the Illuminati secretly run our planet, the world really is filled with unseen influences. The languid music in the grocery store makes us walk slower and spend more money, and product placements in TV and movies leave us inexplicably craving things like Coca-Cola and Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos…

With the presidential election around the corner, Science asked experts in computer science, business, and law to weigh in on how companies like Google and Facebook, which function as the primary gateway to online information for millions of voters, could influence the outcome…

❝ Last summer, Science reported on something called the search engine manipulation effect. Because companies like Google have gotten so good at providing the best links first, the higher an item appears on a list of search results, the more users trust it. That’s OK if you’re looking for the best place to buy a set of kitchen utensils or back-to-school supplies, but the study’s lead author, Robert Epstein…showed that by simply putting links for one candidate above another in a rigged search, he and his co-author could influence how undecided voters choose a candidate…

The effect was largely invisible to the study participants; most had no idea they were seeing biased results. But even if they did, they thought the search engine was merely doing its job and ranking a better candidate higher than his or her opponent…

❝ By Epstein’s calculations, biased Google results could shift the vote in November by up to 2%, or about 2.6 million votes. This may not seem huge, but many presidential elections in the United States have been decided by margins narrower than that…

Is there any evidence to suggest that internet gatekeepers are taking advantage of this power?

No. But this question gets at the real crux of the problem because, for now anyway, there’s really no way to find out. Generally, regulators can’t audit Google or Facebook or any other tech giant to find out how their proprietary algorithms determine the content we see on a screen. Intellectual property laws allow these companies to keep private the specifics of search and newsfeed algorithms, making it extremely difficult to parse out any bias in content that users see.

RTFA if you want even more details to worry about. Inevitable questions about security vs privacy, federal government oversight vs individual freedom to act stupid arise. Think about it.

One thought on “How much will Google influence the presidential election?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s