Dr. Robert Epstein: ‘No Paper Trail’ for Google Search Manipulation

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REUTERS/DARREN STAPLES

Manipulation of search suggestions by companies like Google leaves “no paper trail,” and is almost impossible to detect, says Dr. Robert Epstein, lead author of new research that shows search engines can dramatically shift the opinions of undecided voters by manipulating their search suggestions.

Earlier today, Breitbart News exclusively reported on Dr. Epstein’s latest research on the Search Suggestion Effect (SSE), which shows that the political preferences of undecided voters can be shifted by up to 43 percent if a search engine like Google were to implant links to negative information about a political candidate in their search suggestions.

In correspondence with Breitbart News, Epstein explained how a company like Google could do this while leaving “no paper trail for authorities to follow.” Indeed, his work on the 2016 election suggests that the tech giant may already have done so, to favor Hillary Clinton.

“Search suggestions are ephemeral. They’re generated on the fly and then disappear, leaving no trace, unlike news articles and videos, which tend to stay online” said Dr. Epstein.  “A few screenshots are suggestive of bias or manipulation, but to get real evidence, you would have to look over the shoulders of a diverse group of thousands of people.”

Epstein, along with other researchers at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology (AIBRT), is currently working on a project that would detect and log search engine manipulation and search suggestions manipulation. It builds on his previous work analyzing Google search suggestions during the 2016 election, which appeared to show that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton had been given an easy ride by the tech giant.

To analyze the 2016 election, Epstein recruited 95 monitors in 24 states who looked at over 13,000 sets of Google search rankings.

The research found the following:

Between May and November 2016, search results displayed in response to a wide range of election-related search terms were, on average, biased in Mrs. Clinton’s favor in all 10 search-result positions. This bias could not be accounted for by the bias in the search terms themselves. We also found different levels of bias in different search engines, as well as evidence of demographically-targeted bias. We don’t know what caused these patterns of bias, but no matter what the cause or causes, given the power of search rankings to shift votes and opinions without people’s awareness, they are a matter for concern.

At the time, Google representatives told the Washington Post that Dr. Epstein’s research was “nothing more than a poorly constructed conspiracy theory”

“We have never re-ranked search results on any topic (including elections) to manipulate political sentiment,” Google told The Washington Post. “Moreover, we do not make any ranking tweaks that are specific to elections or political candidates, period. We always strive to provide our users with the most accurate, relevant answers to their queries.”

Dr. Epstein’s latest research sheds more light on the power of search engines to manipulate public opinion, and also shows that current Google search suggestions give a high priority to Google products and companies that are major advertising clients of the tech giant.

Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News. You can follow him on TwitterGab.ai and add him on Facebook. Email tips and suggestions to allumbokhari@protonmail.com.

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