Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Health

Study shows that internet search engines have the power to swing elections.

Seriously, Science?By Seriously ScienceAugust 12, 2015 8:20 PM
5267464508_391254fbcd_o-300x174.jpg

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Image: Flickr/MoneyBlogNewzAs a society, we are happily ensconced in the internet era. And we're sure that you, oh wonderful blog readers, are among the first to use the internet to find information about candidates come election time. And by and large, we assume the internet search engines we use to find that information are unbiased. But what if they aren't? Could the order of search results skew our perceptions of possible candidates? Well, this paper explores that very scenario. The result? Let's just say that we're happy that Google's motto is "don't be evil."The search engine manipulation effect (SEME) and its possible impact on the outcomes of elections. "Internet search rankings have a significant impact on consumer choices, mainly because users trust and choose higher-ranked results more than lower-ranked results. Given the apparent power of search rankings, we asked whether they could be manipulated to alter the preferences of undecided voters in democratic elections. Here we report the results of five relevant double-blind, randomized controlled experiments, using a total of 4,556 undecided voters representing diverse demographic characteristics of the voting populations of the United States and India. The fifth experiment is especially notable in that it was conducted with eligible voters throughout India in the midst of India’s 2014 Lok Sabha elections just before the final votes were cast. The results of these experiments demonstrate that (i) biased search rankings can shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20% or more, (ii) the shift can be much higher in some demographic groups, and (iii) search ranking bias can be masked so that people show no awareness of the manipulation. We call this type of influence, which might be applicable to a variety of attitudes and beliefs, the search engine manipulation effect. Given that many elections are won by small margins, our results suggest that a search engine company has the power to influence the results of a substantial number of elections with impunity. The impact of such manipulations would be especially large in countries dominated by a single search engine company." Related content: A scientific analysis of internet trolls finds that yes, they’re actually sadistic psychopaths.Which sexual fantasies are the most (and least) popular? Science finally weighs in!Google search patterns reveal human mating season.

    2 Free Articles Left

    Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

    Want unlimited access?

    Subscribe today and save 70%

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In