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Google Politics

Can Google Influence Elections? 138

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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  • by bmajik ( 96670 ) <> on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @05:54AM (#46987805) Homepage Journal

    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.

    You mean like what "traditional" media did to Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein?

    This story seems like a case of moving goal posts. Of _course_ the place people go to get information skews their thinking about politics and politicians.

    If someone is mad about google potentially doing this, it's only because they'd prefer that newspapers and tv stations retained that role by divine right...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @05:56AM (#46987807)

    Google/Bing could get away with manipulating elections, but as soon as it's publicly revealed they have done so, the people who are really in charge will make it all sorts of illegal, or flat-out destroy them entirely.

    Even if you help the party in power, they won't want you to put them out of power.

  • Re:Big deal (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FriendlyLurker ( 50431 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @05:58AM (#46987817)
    Yeah the real news here is that the internet is undermining the top down power the traditional oligarchs had over the masses voting behavior via the old-world mass media broadcast companies. If Robert Epstein does not recognize this point, he is just another pawn trying to convince people to go against their own self interest (as is typically the case with most of the two party "first" world Republocrat systems.

    Sure Google gets a big chunk of attention via its news service - but so does lots of "horizontal" news we get via social media. I'll take that over TV and newspaper oligarchies any-day thank you. Just finished reading about a big one in fact - 10 to 100 billion siphoned out of Ukraine and other eastern block countries by "offshore structures created and maintained by the west" - you (probably) will only hear about it on social media:

    While New Zealand’s Company Law Reform Stalls, GT Group Helps a Thieving Ukrainian Despot []
    Fraud & Corrupt Practices in Prague & London []

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @06:48AM (#46987941) Journal
    Maybe it does not, in fact, take one to know (about) one?

    Also, since when exactly does Google do free security consulting for every last two-bit malware farm on the internet? They give you a handy warning in the course of assisting their users; but that's sort of the extent of it.
  • by Gorkamecha ( 948294 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @07:31AM (#46988067)
    It's always manipulating the design. Google will show you the links that it thinks the majority of people are looking for, based on your search term. It might even adjust them a bit if it knows more about you. So if I'm a minority candidate in an election, with a weak online campaign, there is a chance my content is filtered out simply because Google thinks I'm noise. Or I'm pushed several pages down in the listings. As a person using google, I can tweak my search to find better results, but only if I know the results are there to find." What color of lipstick does Trinity wear in the matrix" will get me a vastly different answer from "What color lipstick do movie stars wear?" Same for politics - "What candidate supports gun control" will get you a different result from "What candidate is looking to limit the caliber of rifles to .22". Both could get me a politician, but the first is going to get me a far more generic "popular" link then the much more specific second. And if I don't know I'm looking for the second guy, I might stop at the first.
  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @07:42AM (#46988103)

    Search engines are already implicitly biased based on their search and display algorithms. Google provides results on your past search history attempting to identify those items that you're more likely to read. If you're liberal, you are more likely to get results that include MSN, CNN, etc. Conservatives are more likely to get Fox, etc

    Indeed. There's also a name for the phenomenon -- a filter bubble [].

    There are those who downplay this effect or say it isn't that large. I don't know. In the 2012 election, I searched for Ron Paul news on a regular basis. (I wasn't a supporter, but I found his attempts to overthrow the standard Republican political machine on the local level to be intriguing, and some of the reactions from the party were shocking.)

    Pretty soon, I noticed Ron Paul stuff (news reports, links, etc.) showing up much more frequently in Google for me. I got curious and checked some friends -- and they weren't hearing or seeing anything about this, because Google didn't show them the same search results.

    Those who already were interested in Ron Paul saw more about him. Those who didn't already know about him weren't seeing any of the crazy things happening with his supporters, because Google apparently decided via its algorithms that they'd rather see more news about cats or celebrity love interests or whatever crap.

    It was at that point that I stopped using Google as my standard search engine. (This was also after years of frustration with Google becoming increasingly unable to function as an actual search engine that would look for what I told it to, rather than some wacko variation of my search that dropped half of my search terms arbitrarily and replaced others with "synonyms" that often weren't related at all.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @07:52AM (#46988155)

    "Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." -Winston Churchill

  • Re:Big deal (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @09:43AM (#46988851) Journal

    Yeah the real news here is that the internet is undermining the top down power the traditional oligarchs had over the masses voting behavior

    Sure, that's why there is such a concerted effort to kill Net Neutrality.

    If the internet undermines the "top down power the traditional oligarchs had over the masses voting behavior" only to hand it off to a new set of oligarchs, what has been gained?

    We've seen a startling consolidation of the ways in which people can access the internet and increasing controls over what they can do there. As long as all the vaunted "free speech of "The People" is making the gatekeepers money, and doesn't really have that great an effect, it will be tolerated. No further. Do you really believe the internet has transformed peoples' relationship to political power? If you look at the level of entrenchment of corporate money in politics, there's no way you could possibly believe the internet is having anything like a democratizing effect. In fact, with surveillance and snooping, the citizen has probably lost significant power during the Age of the Internet.

    We started losing the internet as a source of horizontal political power the day commerce was allowed and encouraged here. Maybe we were fooling ourselves that it could ever be otherwise. The end of Net Neutrality is the end of any possibility the Internet could ever be a source of political power to the People.

    You mention some stories coming out of the Ukraine. Do you believe the proliferation of news sources has clarified what's really happening there? I think there's an argument to be made that it's made it nearly impossible to really get a clear picture of the situation. Several times already, I've seen trusted independent news sources get manipulated and fooled completely, only to find themselves slipping further from the truth instead of toward it. Are the nice-looking young women tearing their scarves into rags to make molotov cocktails freedom fighters or murderous terrorists? Are they fighting for independence or at the behest of Western powers? Are they seeking liberty or are they ethic supremacist fascists? Are the professional-looking men in uniforms without insignia keeping peace and order or subverting the will of the people? Several times already I've watched the drama unfold as an independent news blogger promotes some photo or video taken at the scene as showing one thing, only to later find out it shows another entirely. The thing I'm finding about the social-media news sources is that they can also be the easiest to manipulate. And if there are 500 entities reporting on the situation, how do you really vet the story that's filtering down to you?

    I'm afraid that between the NSA, Google and the corporate consolidation of ISPs and content providers, the Internet is dead as a way for citizens to keep their governments and the economic elite accountable.

  • Re:Big deal (Score:5, Interesting)

    by currently_awake ( 1248758 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @10:17AM (#46989121)
    We have a new set of gate keepers. The same job as the old ones, just new names and faces. If you think Google isn't subject to political manipulation: It certainly looks like they are a willing participant in the NSA spying scandal.

Logic is a pretty flower that smells bad.