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Dr. Robert Epstein: ‘The More Google Knows About You, the Easier It Is for Them to Manipulate You’

Professor Epstein Town Hall

Senior research psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein of the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology issued a grave warning about the ability of Silicon Valley to manipulate voters at the Breitbart News event “Masters of the Universe: Big Tech vs. Free Speech and Privacy” in Louisiana on Thursday night. Epstein described tactics used by Internet heavyweights like Google that could move hundreds of thousands of votes and potentially tip close elections.

“The more information these companies have about us, the more easily they can manipulate us,” Epstein said. This was a particularly disturbing thought given how much of the “Masters of the Universe” discussion concerned the shocking degree of surveillance Big Tech companies are subjecting their customers to, using products from web browsers and email services to cell phones and voice command gadgets that constantly monitor every sound in the home.

He warned that sophisticated techniques designed to influence shopping and web browsing habits could also be used to manipulate votes.

“I did a piece for the Daily Caller, a piece I wrote with Ben Edelman of the Harvard School. We estimated that if these companies were all working together and supporting the same candidate, and really pulling out all the stops and using all the methods they have to manipulate, they could shift ten percent of the voting population of America with no one knowing that they had done this, and without leaving a paper trail for authorities to track,” Epstein said.

“Ten percent could be shifted. That’s a lot of votes, with no one knowing they had done this,” he remarked.

Epstein said he has invested years of research to determine how many votes can be shifted by techniques such as Google manipulating search results.

“It turns out what’s at the top of the list, people believe is better and truer than what’s lower in the list,” he revealed. “That’s why 50 percent of all clicks go to the top two items.”

“We showed in our studies that if you favor one candidate in search results, meaning higher-ranked results make that candidate look better – you click on it, it takes you to a web page that makes that candidate look really good – if you favor one candidate in search results, among voters that are undecided you can easily shift at least 20 percent of them toward that candidate, up to 80 percent in at least one demographic group that we found,” he said.

Epstein did not keep the audience in suspense for long in revealing the identity of that group.

“The most vulnerable group that we’ve ever found so far in our five years of studies is moderate Republicans,” he said.

“We came up with a monitoring system for monitoring search results on Google, Bing, and Yahoo for nearly six months before the election in 2016,” he recalled. “We found that Google’s search results favored Hillary Clinton in all ten positions of those search results on the first page. All ten positions, for almost all of those six months leading up to the election. Now, that’s enough to shift two to three million votes, at least, without anyone knowing that they have been manipulated.”

Another aspect of search engine manipulation Epstein studied is the auto-complete feature, which guesses the remaining words in a query as the user types. Auto-completion is ostensibly based on the searches other users are performing, but he remembered following up on a report that “when you’re typing in search terms, you can’t get negatives for Hillary Clinton on Google.”

“Eight people on my staff spent that summer of 2016 – this I published in the fall of that year – seeing if we could get negatives for Hillary Clinton. For example, we’d type in on Bing and Yahoo, we’d type in ‘Hillary Clinton Is…’ and we’d get, ‘Hillary Clinton is the devil,’ ‘Hillary Clinton is sick,’ ‘Hillary Clinton is dying of cancer.’ Hillary Clinton is, literally, eight or ten extremely negative suggestions, because that’s in fact what people were searching for.”

“Then we’d go to Google,” he continued. “We’d type in, ‘Hillary Clinton is…’ and we’d get, ‘Hillary Clinton is awesome,’ ‘Hillary Clinton is winning,’ and that’s it.”

“We started doing some serious research just on those suggestions they flash at you when you start to type a search term, and what we have now learned, we have all the details on this — and one of the major news sources is going to be breaking the story about our new work in this area, I can’t go into details about it until the story breaks — but what we have found is you are being manipulated from the very first character that you type into that search bar,” Epstein revealed.

An extended discussion of Dr. Epstein’s work on Google search results from September 2016 can be found here.

“The more Google knows about you, the easier it is for them to manipulate you,” he reiterated. “This is without you having any idea that this is occurring.”

Epstein was prepared for the objection that Donald Trump still won the 2016 election despite these manipulation techniques, so they must not be all that effective. As fellow panelist Ann Coulter recalled him telling her before the event: “They weren’t trying to stop Trump, because they were so confident it was gonna be Hillary. But henceforth it’s going to be pedal to the metal against Trump, and now we’re going to see what they can do.”

“They held back,” Epstein put in after Coulter related this conversation. “They will never hold back again. I guarantee it.”

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