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Can Google Influence Elections? 138

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the meme-cat-told-me-to-vote-for-kodos dept.
KindMind (897865) writes "From the Washington Post: 'Psychologist Robert Epstein has been researching [how much influence search engines have on voting behavior] and says he is alarmed at what he has discovered. His most recent experiment, whose findings were released Monday, found that search engines have the potential to profoundly influence voters without them noticing the impact ... Epstein, former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today and a vocal critic of Google, has not produced evidence that this or any other search engine has intentionally deployed this power. But the new experiment builds on his earlier work by measuring SEME (Search Engine Manipulation Effect) in the concrete setting of India's national election, whose voting concludes Monday.'"
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Can Google Influence Elections?

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  • Hmmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @05:15AM (#46987645) Journal
    So search engines could influence elections; but we have no evidence as yet that they are exploiting that capability, while newspapers, radio, and television have been doing their best in that area more or less since their respective introductions.

    Sounds like we'd better start panicking now.
  • by EasyTarget (43516) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @05:20AM (#46987665) Journal

    Ooooh Epstein; you have so much to learn. Maybe you should Google 'Peer review' etc.

  • Of course they can (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pablo_max (626328) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @05:27AM (#46987707)

    It is a simple fact that they had a mind to, they could drastically impact the elections.

    Nearly 90% of the people out there use Google to search for information about everything from the political to lolcatz.
    All they would need to do is omit some results from the search and place others high in the list. They can even insert propaganda into seemingly unrelated searches.
    Something perhaps designed to manufacture rage at one particular party or candidate.

    Controlling all information to have complete power.

    Imagine if google and bing decided that a certain candidate didn't exist and the name only returned some unrelated items. No news article links, no info sites, nothing.

  • Bigger problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by StripedCow (776465) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @05:50AM (#46987789)

    The bigger problem is that we, the people, have only 1 voting-moment in every term.
    You can ask yourself: how is this possible, considering the technological advancements we have been through in the last two decades (in the fields of communication and social media)?
    The answer: congress has only itself to blame.

    Check out this video:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

  • by protoporos (900257) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @06:40AM (#46987917)
    If you control the information, you can exert significant influence in the decision-making process of the individuals that use your service. You should not need a big research to figure this out.

    Actually that happens also to be the most major "design gap" in Democracy (and I say that, even though I'm Greek). The fact that you will increase the decision makers in a topic does not mean that you will get a better & more objective decision, simply because they might lack the proper, accurate information to make an informed judgment. In other words, by increasing N, you average out the localized/special interests, but you also reduce the average amount of information each "unit" has on the topic (because you sum and divide by N).

    So, coming back to the topic, accurate information is a key contributing factor for good decision making, especially for important topics like who will be your head of state for the next ~4 years. That is why diversification is beneficial even in your personal "information channels".
  • Re:Big deal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by flyneye (84093) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @07:04AM (#46987969) Homepage

    Just add a few entries to Youtube in search results and we have THE PEOPLE talking about candidates, pointing out the lies, the history, the payola, what corp. owns them and not a fucking thing a campaign manager can do , but to wet himself. Oh sure the candidate will have a few official videos,like anyone could care after its been plastered over T.V.
    Talk about public service announcements, YEAH BABY! No one watches much T.V. anymore, anyway.

  • Re:Big deal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheDarkMaster (1292526) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @09:00AM (#46988495)
    Dammit, where is my mod points when I really need them. Exactly, this is the big point. The Internet has democratized information and oligarchs can not do anything against it. Before they simply bribed or threatened newspapers to hide unwanted news, but now is practically impossible to do that against every single person with access to the internet.
  • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @09:49AM (#46988899)

    Unless someone shows me evidence that Google is manually manipulating rankings then this is a non-story to me.

    Of course they're manipulating rankings, especially through personalization -- you live in a different region, have a different search history, etc., and Google will deliver more content at higher ranks that is supposedly "tailored for you."

    Net result of this manipulation is that people can end up in poltical "feedback loops" more easily. We already naturally tend to do this: liberals tend to click on stories on liberal sites with liberal titles or slants; conservatives do the same.

    That's all fine -- but what happens when you stop even SEEING what the other side is talking about?

    You can argue that Google's personalization is just doing this for everyone, so it's not biased. But by filtering content that you see and narrowing its focus, it significantly alters whatever the standard distribution of news stories is by zeroing in on what most people are interested in. Do this enough, and nobody ever sees information about a lesser-known candidate, even if that candidate is in media sources and people write on the web about him/her, because Google "knows" that you are most interested in the better-known candidates, based on your previous search behavior. And because you live in a certain region, perhaps you see information about political issues A and B, but almost nothing about C and D, since people in your region don't seem to like clicking on stuff about C and D.

    Just because Google doesn't tweak its algorithms because of individual complaints doesn't mean they couldn't result in a significant bias or manipulation (even if unintentional) in the way people vote.

  • Re:Big deal (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jmac_the_man (1612215) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @11:28AM (#46989909)

    most people have moved on from the tragedy [the Benghazi attacks], considering [Hillary Clinton] accepted the blame for it a year and a half ago. It's not even clear what they want out of continually harping on this other than simply smearing her name.

    Let's take it as a given that "What difference, at this point, does it make?" counts as claiming to accept blame for something. How does that work, exactly?

    Let's use a concrete example. President Obama used drugs, primarily marijuana and cocaine, from his late teens into roughly his late twenties. My source for this is Dreams From My Father, his autobiography. The book came out about 15 years before his Presidential campaign started, and he's answered questions about it throughout his political career. His answers have largely been, "It was stupid. Pay attention in class and don't do drugs." Anyone who was going to vote against him because he used drugs had all the information to do so, straight from the horse's mouth. That's what taking responsibility for something means.

    If Hillary Clinton is legitimately culpable for the lack of security at the compound in Benghazi, then her negligence led to the death of four Americans in a terrorist attack. According to you, Clinton has already admitted this. Being responsible, through negligence, for the deaths of four Americans is a legitimate campaign issue, and the Clinton campaign (and you) should be prepared for Benghazi to be held against her throughout the campaign. That's what taking responsibility for something means.

    Hillary Clinton hasn't, in fact, admitted that she is responsible. Democrat hacks are STILL pretending the Youtube video spurred a demonstration that Clinton couldn't have forseen. (Eleanor Clift made this claim on The McLaughlin Group on Sunday.) The genesis of this claim is a set of talking points put out by the State Department (led, at the time, by Hillary Clinton) to conceal the issue until after the 2012 election. The coverup, is a separate issue that Clinton is responsible for.

    Right now, it looks like Hillary Clinton was legitimately negligent in preparing for the Benghazi attack AND that she led a coverup of the attack to benefit her party on the eve of a Presidential election. We don't know, largely because the Democrats have been stonewalling on this since September 13th, 2012. The American people deserve to know what happened, and that goes double if we're being asked to vote for Clinton for President.

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