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Could search engines decide the 2016 election?

Dr. Robert Epstein found that for candidates who consistently topped the search list, the boost would be more than enough to affect the result. (AP Photo/File)
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Psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein says according to his research the answer is yes.

He recruited 2,000 undecided voters in India and had them do Google searches on actual candidates in this month’s election. But unbeknownst to his test subjects, Dr. Epstein was manipulating the search results.

“We found that we could push people’s preferences easily by more than 12 percent in the direction of any candidate that we chose,” said Epstein.

His test subjects tended to favor the candidate that topped the search results. He found that for candidates who consistently topped the search list, the boost would be more than enough to affect the result.

“If you look at the numbers in our study, up to 25 percent of elections around the world would be decided by a computer program,” said Epstein.

He has no evidence that there has actually been any deliberate manipulation. But he says it would be easy to do.

In fact, he’s even determined which type of people are easiest to manipulate.

“Our most recent study in the U.S. reveals the most vulnerable groups to this kind of manipulation are conservatives, people who are divorced and people from Ohio,” said Epstein.

And he wonders, what’s to stop an unethical search company from pushing biased search results to these vulnerable groups and deciding an election?

That could undermine our present system, where we decide elections using 30-second attack ads from secret donors with unlimited budgets!

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