At perhaps what is normally a quiet industry focused conference in Southern California there may be a bombshell report about to be dropped. At the 99th convention of the Western Psychological Association meeting in Pasadena this month Dr. Robert Epstein will be presenting on possible political bias in Google search results that he believes impacted the 2018 Congressional Elections, specifically here in Orange County.

Dr. Epstein will present his study, “Evidence of Systematic Political Bias in Online Search Results in the 10 Days Leading Up to the 2018 U.S. Midterm Elections,” on Friday, April 26.

A previous report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in 2015, established that search-engine search results that favor one candidate can shift voting preferences among undecided voters by 20 percent or more – up to 80 percent in some demographic groups.

The report also illustrated how that manipulation can easily be masked so that it is invisible to users.

Dr. Epstein has dubbed this effect the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME), and several investigations, including one by the European Commission, have confirmed that search results by Google, the search engine used to conduct about 90 percent of searches worldwide, are often biased in ways that serve the company’s financial or political goals.

In his new study, Epstein, with fellow AIBRT psychologist Emily M. Williams, recruited an anonymous, Nielsen-type network of field agents to preserve election-related searches on Google, Bing, and Yahoo during the 10 days preceding the 2018 U.S. midterm elections.

Data collection focused mainly on three hotly contested Congressional races in Republican districts in California, all of which were won by the Democratic candidates.

As many as 47,294 searches were preserved, along with the 392,274 web pages to which the search results linked. Search suggestions and answer boxes were also preserved.

This presentation is made all the more interesting by the fact that Alphabet, Inc (Google’s parent company) was a top five source of campaign cash for Orange County’s Democrat candidates.

Alphabet, Inc. employees contributed:

$51,334 to Rep. Harley Rouda

$25,328 to Rep. Gil Cisneros

$59,860 to Rep. Katie Porter

We will keep an eye on Dr. Epstein and report back on his findings after the conference.

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