inserting negative search suggestions under the name of a candidate,
search engines like Google can shift the opinions of undecided voters by
up to 43.4 percent, according to new research by
a team at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology
and reported exclusively by Breitbart News.
lead author of the study, Dr. Robert Epstein, has
previously conducted research into what he calls the Search Engine
Manipulation Effect (SEME). This research showed that
the manipulation of results pages in search engines can shift the voting
preferences of undecideds by anywhere between 20 and 80 percent,
depending on the demographic.
latest research looks at how search engines can affect voters by
suggesting negative or positive search terms when a political
candidate’s name is entered into the search bar. Dr. Epstein’s research
found that when negative search terms are suggested for a candidate, it
can have a dramatic effect on voter opinion.
voting preferences of participants who saw no search suggestions
shifted toward the favored candidate by 37.1%. The voting preferences
of participants in the search suggestion groups who saw only
positive search suggestions shifted similarly (35.6%). However,
the voting preferences of participants who saw three positive
search suggestions and one negative search suggestion barely
shifted (1.8%); this occurred because the negative search
suggestion attracted more than 40% of the clicks (negativity bias). In
other words, a
single negative search suggestion can impact opinions dramatically. Participants
who were shown four negative suggestions (and no positives)
shifted away from
the candidate shown in the search bar (-43.4%).
researchers conclude that by using this method of manipulation,
search engines can shift a “50/50 split split among people who
are undecided on an issue to a 90/10 split without people’s
awareness and without leaving a paper trail for authorities to
conclusions are based on 16 months of experiments conducted with a total
of 1,800 people from all 50 U.S. states. Participants in the study came
from diverse ideological backgrounds, including liberal, conservative,
and moderate. In order to control prior biases, participants were asked
to judge political candidates that they were unfamiliar with.
on in the paper, the researchers reference allegations of
search suggestion manipulation made against Google during the 2016
election, when the tech giant appeared to be suppressing negative search
suggestions for Hillary Clinton while allowing negative suggestions for
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders to remain.
research also notes discrepancies with Google’s current search
suggestions, particularly with regards to its commercial interests. For
example, entering “G” into the search bar in Google will instantly
provide users with suggestions to click on search terms about other
Google products – Gmail, Google Maps, Google Drive, and others.
resarchers also found a recurring pattern of major brands being favored
in Google search suggestions if they were financially linked to Google.
The top search suggestions for “a” is Amazon – Google’s top client on
Google Adwords, the company’s digital advertising service. The top
search suggestion for “t” is Target – Google’s third-biggest advertising
to the research summary, “The same pattern occurs for other major
advertisers on Google, among them Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and
only companies that are shortchanged by this arrangement are those
with names beginning with ‘g.'”
Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News.
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