Google is already under fire in Europe for weighing search results in favor of its own shopping services and burying more relevant competition. Now, researchers are saying the search engine is so powerful it could actually rig the 2016 presidential election.
Fortune reports Google could sway the election through something called the Search Engine Manipulation Effect. Put simply, if Google were to change its algorithm so that a candidate’s search results were more positive, undecided voters could have their opinions altered anywhere from 20 to 80 percent. Researchers from the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology discovered the phenomenon by running five experiments on public opinion in two countries.
Here’s senior researcher Robert Epstein writing about SEME in Politico:
Because SEME is virtually invisible as a form of social influence, because the effect is so large and because there are currently no specific regulations anywhere in the world that would prevent Google from using and abusing this technique, we believe SEME is a serious threat to the democratic system of government.
Google responded that the company was built on providing relevant answers to people’s questions, and it would suspect of itself if it changed practices.
So it goes in the ongoing dance between media and politics, from newspapers to radio to television. Nixon lost to Kennedy because he sweated through a televised debate. Walter Winchell was an early booster for a U.S. entry into WWII. William Randolph Hearst whooped up a public frenzy to get us into a war and played kingmaker with his own sympathetic candidates.
Presumably, if they were interested in fixing the outcome, the historically liberal Google execs would be favorable to the Democrat’s nominee. But with Donald Trump and Deez Nutz, the most searched candidates, if anyone in their offices has an anarchic streak, now’s the time to watch the world burn.