After over two years of testimony and investigations about the impact of Russian social media manipulation during the 2016 Presidential election, questions are now being raised over the influence of search engine and social media algorithms themselves, as well as the powerful, multinational corporations that run them.
Enter Harvard educated psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology and the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today magazine. Dr. Epstein first came to prominence years ago when he and his team of researchers discovered a new psychological phenomena called the “Search Engine Manipulation Effect” (SEME). SEME remains one of the most significant psychological behavioral effects ever discovered and is defined as a change in consumer preferences from manipulations of search results by search engine providers. In Dr. Epstein’s first study into how this could impact elections, his research indicated that such manipulations could shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20 percent or more and up to 80 percent in some demographics. The study estimated that this could change the outcome of upwards of 25 percent of national elections worldwide.
In a follow up study of the 2018 mid-term elections, Dr. Epstein unearthed more evidence of search engine manipulation on the part of Google that helped give a competitive edge to Democratic candidates in Orange County like Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach), Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) and Rep. Gil Cisneros (D-Yorba Linda).
In bombshell testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 19th, 2019, psychologist and self-described Hillary Clinton supporter, Dr. Robert Epstein, said that the amount of votes that could have been swayed by big tech’s algorithms that reflect the liberal ideologies of Silicon Valley has been vastly understated.
The former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, testified that tech electioneering occurred on a “massive scale”, with potentially over 2.6 million votes being swayed in the democratic column. He went on to state that, “in 2020, if all these companies are supporting the same candidate, there are 15 million votes on the line that can be shifted without people’s knowledge and without leaving a paper trail for people to trace”.
Dr. Epstein’s claims are buoyed by recent precedent when Google was fined a record $2.9 billion for manipulating search results against competitors. The fine set a record in the European Union and was in response to a finding that Google manipulated its search algorithm to favor results for its products over competitors.
In addition to Google exhibiting the technical capacity to manipulate search records to their own ends, the relationship between Google and the Democratic Party runs so deep, that in the past it has been hard to see where one ends and the other begins.
During the last Presidential Election, then Google CEO and Chairman Eric Schmidt was accused of bypassing Federal Election laws by forming satellite, “start up” organizations to help the Clinton campaign. Internal emails that leaked during the campaign include one from John Podesta (Campaign Chairman) that describes Google CEO’s chairman as “ready to fund, advise and recruit talent” and another from former Google Executive and Clinton Chief Technology officer that boasts of the technological edge that the campaign’s relationship with Google would have as an advantage that no other campaign could hope to match.
In one such email, Goff writes: “Working relationships with Google, Facebook, Apple, and other technology companies were important to us in 2012 and should be even more important to you in 2016, given their still-ascendent positions in the culture . . . These partnerships can bring a range of benefits to a campaign, from access to talent and prospective donors to early knowledge of beta products and invitations to participate in pilot programs. We have begun having discreet conversations with some of these companies…”
On election night 2016, Politico Google CEO and Chairman was even pictured at the Clinton “victory” party wearing a Clinton Campaign staff badge.
According to Dr. Epstein’s research, the connection between Google and supporting Democratic politics did not end with the Clinton’s 2016 loss.
Dr. Epstein’s research team found that Google search results helped flip the important congressional races, particularly those here in Orange County, from red to blue.
Compounding concerns over this influence, is the fact that each Orange County congressional Democrat, counted Google/Alphabet company as a top-5 source for campaign contributions in the 2018 cycle.
While Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) received the most money from Google employees, Google was only her third largest source of contributions. Rep. Harley Rouda received the second most in aggregate and counts Google as his second largest source of campaign contributions. Lastly, Rep. Gil Cisneros (D-Yorba Linda) who received the least but still counts Google as his fourth largest source of campaign contributions.
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Heading into 2020, what roll will the largest and most popular search engine in the world play in shaping how people think? Many in the media like The Hill and FiveThirtyEight, have begun digging deeper into big tech’s political bias, but will media coverage be enough considering the precise algorithms and the true path to how something ultimately appears on our screens is still a closely held secret?
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