Election Universe

Can Google rig elections?

Can Google rig elections?
September 24 2015, 19:15

“How Google Could Rig the 2016 Election” is the title of an article written by Robert Epstein and published by Politico in August.

According to Epstein, Senior Research Psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, “Google has amassed far more power to control elections than any company in history has ever had.”

Epstein’s assertion is based on a study that he and his colleagues published recently which concludes: “Google’s search algorithm can easily shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20 percent or more—up to 80 percent in some demographic groups—with virtually no one knowing they are being manipulated, according to experiments I conducted recently with Ronald E. Robertson.”

By controlling the algorithm and what people read, researchers say, it has the power to influence the opinion of voters.

To demonstrate their thesis, Epstein and his team conducted five experiments with more than 4,500 participants in two countries. “In laboratory and online experiments conducted in the United States, we were able to boost the proportion of people who favored any candidate by between 37 and 63 percent after just one search session. The impact of viewing biased rankings repeatedly over a period of weeks or months would undoubtedly be larger.”

These researchers also performed similar experiments during the largest democratic election ever held, India’s Parliamentary elections in 2014 (Lok Sabha). The results, which are described in this report, also point towards the same conclusion.

Google claims that “Providing relevant answers has been the cornerstone of Google’s approach to search from the very beginning. It would undermine people’s trust in our results and company if we were to change course.” However, given the importance of elections, further studies should be conducted on this topic.

For years authorities have acknowledged that the electorate needs balanced and adequate information about candidates and their proposals. Internet, with its potential to bring disruptive changes everywhere, has just stepped into the elections arena. Most likely, and just like TV and Radio ads are monitored, election management bodies will soon have to deal with search engines to guarantee free and fair elections in the Age of Information.

Image by Gerd Altmann via Pixabay