Google could influence who voters pick to be America's next president, according to research psychologist Robert Epstein.
Writing for Politico Magazine
, Epstein, the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, contends the search engine behemoth has "amassed far more power to control elections … to control a wide variety of opinions and beliefs … than any company in history has ever had."
"America’s next president could be eased into office not just by TV ads or speeches, but by Google’s secret decisions, and no one — except for me and perhaps a few other obscure researchers — would know how this was accomplished," Epstein writes.
According to Epstein, 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."
"Whether or not Google executives see it this way, the employees who constantly adjust the search giant’s algorithms are manipulating people every minute of every day. The adjustments they make increasingly influence our thinking — including, it turns out, our voting preferences," he says.
Epstein points to one telling experiment in which participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups in which search rankings favored either Candidate A, Candidate B or neither candidate.
"Participants were given brief descriptions of each candidate and then asked how much they liked and trusted each candidate and whom they would vote for. Then they were allowed up to 15 minutes to conduct online research on the candidates using a Google-like search engine we created called Kadoodle," Epstein writes.
Each group had access to the same 30 search results, but the ordering of the results differed among the three groups.
When our participants were done searching, "opinions shifted in the direction of the candidate who was favored in the rankings," he writes. "Trust, liking and voting preferences all shifted predictably."
"Perhaps the most effective way to wield political influence in today’s high-tech world is to donate money to a candidate and then to use technology to make sure he or she wins," Epstein writes.
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