The Los Angeles Times reported that that San Diego-based psychologist says the political impact of search engines has cost Republicans three California congressional districts in the last election.
“People trust algorithmic output. They trust Google. They think because it’s generated by a computer, they don’t see the human hand – they think it’s impartial and objective and, because of that, their opinions change,” Epstein said.
The researcher has been questioning the power of algorithms and underscoring how little most Americans understand about the search engines work. Epstein, a former Psychology Today editor in chief calls it the Search Engine Manipulation Effect.
“These are new forms of manipulation people can’t see,” he said. The technologies “can have an enormous impact on voters who are undecided. … People have no awareness the influence is being exerted.”
Google has dismisses him as “a misguided amateur”, but in his latest study, which Epstein and a co-author plan to present in April at the 99th annual meeting of the Western Psychological Association, he tracked 47 300 searches by dozens of undecided voters in the districts of newly elected Democratic candidates.
Mainstream outlets, including the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, dominated the Google search results. By contrast, searches conducted on Yahoo and Bing more often showcased links from deeply conservative outfits such as Breitbart.
He projected that 35 455 voters who were undecided were persuaded to vote for a Democrat entirely because of the sources Google forced on them.
The large readership that sites such as Breitbart receive, have not earned them more prominent Google exposure. “It is astonishing that Breitbart and some similar websites are not more present, given the enormous traffic some of these websites get, Breitbart especially,” he said. “What you are seeing here might be indicative of a kind of blacklisting.”
Google, he says, is trying to make political judgments “based on some measures of what they consider to be quality. They have said this publicly. They are trying to judge what is good and bad.”