Google is a powerful tool almost everyone uses every day for a variety of tasks, but could the search giant use its position to influence or downright rig the upcoming election? Respected psychologist Robert Epstein thinks it is possible.
Google and the power of persuasion
Epstein shared his findings from a recent study in the latest publication of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the study, he teamed up with Ronald Robertson to create Kadoodle (a fake search engine), which was used to test out different search results and the possible effects of influencing people to vote a certain way.
He explained how the experiment played out. The participants were given three options to choose from: Candidate A, Candidate B or neither. They were then given descriptions of the two candidates and asked how much they liked or respected those candidates. Later, they were allowed to do online research on them with the Kadoodle search engine. The results indicated that the candidate with the most favorable search rankings then scored better on trust and voting preference.
The Search Engine Manipulation Effect
Robertson and Epstein dubbed the findings “Search Engine Manipulation Effect” or SEME. The new study echoes the previous controversial report Epstein and Robertson conducted last year. The study used real candidates and voters; it showed that 15% of undecided voters were swayed by the search rankings. Epstein’s study suggested Google may have had a role in the Indian election results.
Although Google hasn’t officially responded to the comments, the company previously defended its algorithm, claiming it was made for giving relevant answers. Rigging the search results would defeat the entire purpose of the search engine. Epstein doesn’t believe Google. He said providing relevant answers doesn’t necessarily rule out the search engine’s attempt to persuade voters one way or the other.