Google Search Could Influence Election Results, According to Researchers

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Google Search Could Influence Election Results, According to Researchers

Google search has the power to rig the 2016 election, at least that’s what researchers at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology have come to believe.

According to their study, something called the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME) has the ability to shift the opinions of undecided voters by 20% or more.

If Google’s search algorithm started to surface more positive results than negative for a candidate, searchers could end up having a more positive opinion of that candidate.

This kind of influence could sway election results given that most presidential elections are won by small margins. That’s a dangerous amount of power for one company to have, the researchers argue:

“Because SEME is virtually invisible as a form of social influence, because the effect is so large and because there are currently no specific regulations anywhere in the world that would prevent Google from using and abusing this technique, we believe SEME is a serious threat to the democratic system of government.”

In response, Google stated:

“Providing relevant answers has been the cornerstone of Google’s approach to search from the very beginning. It would undermine the people’s trust in our results and company if we were to change course.”

In other words whether or not Google has the power to influence election results is arguable, but even if it could the company wouldn’t risk its reputation on it.

This study does leave you with something to consider. If Google’s search results could influence a decision as important as who to vote for to lead your country, imagine the influence it has on whether or not someone buys your product or service.

Google yourself or your business and see what comes up. Is it positive? Negative? Would you “vote” for yourself after seeing what comes up in the search results?

Something worth considering after reading about that study.

Editorial Credit: Shutterstock

Matt Southern
Matt Southern has been the lead news writer at Search Engine Journal since 2013. His passion for helping people in all aspects of online marketing... Read Full Bio
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  • R.Rogerson


    yada yada yada
    This keeps on cropping up.

    Newspapers and that do it all the time.
    Certain TV channel do it to.
    Google could potentially do it …
    … the question isn’t “could they”, but “would they”?

  • Scott McKirahan

    Politics has always been the number one reason why personalized results are dangerous. When you are signed into your Google account and do a search, you could very well get very different results when you search for things in politics than someone else might get, based on previous sites you have visited and what friends of yours like (good old Google+).

    So, even if Google doesn’t intentionally manipulate search results for political reasons, they are, in effect, doing it algorithmically. It can easily be argued that they are a contributing factor to political polarization.

    • R.Rogerson

      Wouldn’t jsut be political.
      Theological, psychological, and ‘ism preference … all of those are personal, and all may be reflected in personal searches.

      But how is that any different than your preference in newspaper or TV show?
      You will have an affinity towards sources that reflect/represent/magnify your alignments/sentiments.

      All that said – I personally detest “personal” search. If I search for something, I want the best/most accurate etc. – not what G thinks will satisfy my personal preferences/personality quirks.
      I think it should be “neutral” in that regard.

      Another consideration is not whether G are manipulating the SERPs,
      but whether the SERPs are manipulatable.
      Trending terms, QDF, higher search volume/frequency, Twitter-hose … all of these have the potential to skew the content of the SERPs too a certain degree.
      Leaves me wondering if G have measures in place to detect it (and would it be right for them to intervene? If they did, it would upset at least 1 group……).

  • Rajnish

    I strongly agree with Matt that search result effect a lot in the election result. I am talking about India from my own perspective if I had any doubt or wanted to know something about a candidate or party. I will straightaway search for that in google.

    • Norm

      But Google has done a fairly good job at making sure you see what is relevant to your search, not what may be contrary for the sake of changing your opinions. In other words, Google does not make up the content they serve up in the results, and their goal is to serve up that which is most relevant.

      Of course, if someone is Googling “who should I vote for?”, that is a different situations all together. Most people however, are doing more targeted searches, I would think, such as “arguments against global warming?”, “pros and cons of immigration”. I have found Google very useful for researching topics and finding very good information with which I can then make my own decision.

      I have friends that incessantly post political stories and meme’s and comments on facebook. Most of the time they only serve to solidify my own differing opinion. I suspect Google is right, if they started trying to change minds, people would get frustrated with the results and change search engines.