Type the words "Hillary Clinton is" into Google
, and Bing
. Really, I'm not kidding. Do it yourself. Do it now. I'll wait.
Don't trust what I say, just because you read it on the internet. Go to the search engines. Type the phrase into the search box yourself.
You'll get suggestions like these when I searched those words tonight.
You might think these preliminary suggestions are customized specifically for me (they're supposed to be), except that I abundantly use Google resources, so they should know my political opinions. I'm a liberal who supported Bernie Sanders
, opposes Hillary Clinton's candidacy, and will not vote for her
Now go read this long story from the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today. You'll wish you were wearing a tin foil hat.
The article starts slowly with some background storytelling to set the mood, but the very important bits are farther down into the text. They tried manipulating the opinions of their test subjects, and they were quite effective.
What we actually found was astonishing. The proportion of people favouring the search engine’s top-ranked candidate increased by 48.4 per cent
, and all five of our measures shifted toward that candidate. What’s more, 75 per cent of the people in the bias groups seemed to have been completely unaware that they were viewing biased search rankings. ...
Over the next year or so, we replicated our findings three more times, and the third time was with a sample of more than 2,000 people from all 50 US states. In that experiment, the shift in voting preferences was 37.1 per cent and even higher in some demographic groups – as high as 80 per cent, in fact. ...
It means that when people – including you and me – are looking at biased search rankings, they look just fine
. So if right now you Google ‘US presidential candidates’, the search results you see will probably look fairly random, even if they happen to favour one candidate
Writing in the New Republic
in 2014, Jonathan Zittrain, professor of international law at Harvard University, pointed out that, given the massive amount of information it has collected about its users, Facebook could easily send such messages only to people who support one particular party or candidate, and that doing so could easily flip a close election – with no one knowing that this has occurred
. And because advertisements, like search rankings, are ephemeral, manipulating an election in this way would leave no paper trail. ...
Perhaps even more disturbing is that the handful of people who do show awareness that they are viewing biased search rankings shift even further
in the predicted direction; simply knowing that a list is biased doesn’t necessarily protect you from SEME’s power. ...
The formation of The Groundwork prompted Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, to dub Google Clinton’s ‘secret weapon
’ in her quest for the US presidency.
I'm so glad that I called attention recently
to Google's failure to include Green Party candidate Jill Stein
(and Transhumanist candidate Zoltan Istvan) in their search ranking results. Their favoritism was too obvious, I guess.
It's bad enough that I have to distrust all electronic voting machines. We use paper ballots here in Minnesota, so we have a trustworthy validation mechanism. Your area may differ. It's even worse that I have to distrust all media because it has consolidated to the point that only a few individuals can shape the message across vast swaths of broadcast, print, and online sources of news. Now, sadly, I have reason to distrust the primary interface to the internet: search engines.
I think the only real solution will be for all of us to have personal artificial intelligence assistants on our machines that we can direct to search data for us and present us with opinions that haven't been manipulated by any influence but our own fallible selves. Maybe we can start with open source web crawlers and search engines. I installed a useful one a few years ago on Windows before I made the switch to Linux Mint, but now I can't remember which package it was. Sorry, I don't have any recommendations tonight. Let me know if you have one that you like.