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Communications of the ACM


Search Engine Agendas

2016 presidential candidates

Research has shown the order in which the results of search engine queries are presented can affect how users vote.


In the novel 1984, George Orwell imagines a society in which powerful but hidden forces subtly shape peoples' perceptions of the truth. By changing words, the emphases put on them, and their presentation, the state is able to alter citizens' beliefs and behaviors in ways of which they are unaware.

Now imagine today's Internet search engines did just that kind of thing—that subtle biases in search engine results, introduced deliberately or accidentally, could tip elections unfairly toward one candidate or another, all without the knowledge of voters.


Cassidy Alan

There is a Google policy that directly affects views that conflicts with the views of "somebody" at Google, and I can think of two examples immediately that come to mind. Because of Google's de facto near-monopoly dominance in Internet search, the ads that come up on the side very much affect the financial side of companies and people that use those ads and count on them for significant parts of their revenue, especially information web sites.

One of these was effectively de-listed for having a libertarian point of view in an expert's blog about automobiles. Another was what you might call an "anti-Islamist" web site.

I myself once clicked on a Yahoo search result that came up in the first page results and I got this page-sized warning: "Yahoo does not authorize this web page", and "proceed at your own risk", something like that, although it let me click through. This target site had convincing information that could have been extremely damaging to the Obama campaign of 2008.

So Google most definitely, whether through deliberate policy decisions in the company, or through selective negligence, does tilt the playing field.

This is one reason for the dominance of the Drudge Report for getting a variety of generally interesting stories with a lot less of the dominant elite-classses' socially enforced cultural memes that are much more controversial than most "Legacy Media" implies.

It's not just Google and Yahoo and search portals that use these two engines. Like Facebook agreeing to a German censorship policy. Indirectly, Paypal making decisions based on political bias to withdraw business from one American government jurisdiction (North Carolina), favoring an opinion that is atrocious to most American parents, while trying to increase business in places where worse atrocities are enforced.

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