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Voter Manipulation Power of Google

Obviously, information is a powerful thing. What’s even more powerful is how information is used and how it is accessed. In this day and age, even the smallest piece of information can sway an entire opinion, which could have drastic effects politically. This is why web browser and trending algorithms can have lasting, unintentional effects. The content on the internet has similar properties to other networks, with web pages representing nodes and the links between them being edges. However, they function differently than social networks because the links are only one directional and the incoming links could be extremely high. There are weak components of the web and strong ones that all depend on how many incoming links nodes have and how many they are connected to. Web searches browse through these nodes, with search components consisting of page content, url name, history of search results on the page and which resulted in clicks, among others. Each different search engine (i.e. Google, Bing, Yahoo) has designed their own search algorithm that returns different results based on these search components and what people put in the search.

In the article, Google’s Search Algorithm Could Steal the Presidency, Adam Rodgers discusses the power that these search algorithms can have, specifically Google’s. He cites a study that focuses on “voter manipulation power”, where mock-voters were split into three groups: viewers of negative pages first, viewers of positive pages first and viewers of mixed pages. “By more than 48%”, voters who saw the positive articles were more likely to vote for the featured candidate. In other words, VMP is very high in terms of what people see based on a search algorithm.

Robert Epstein, a psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, has predicted that Google could influence up to 25% of all national elections. The power of these algorithms is incredibly potent and needs to be considered when designing them. It is a direct threat to democracy to have a people’s votes manipulated by what they randomly see on the internet.





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