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Do Search Engines Manipulate Search Results to Form Public Opinion?

Are search engines engaging in a subtle form of mind control? While there is growing circumstantial evidence that may be the case, there is a strong hint of conspiracy theory running throughout this particular article. Let me explain.

What the writers prove was that manually manipulated, biased search results in an experiment can influence people in large numbers. However, they didn’t come close to proving search engines actually do this. They speculate it’s possible (of course it is) – then at the end, actually say it’s happening without providing any direct evidence. So they lost me there.

The possibility of Facebook reminding a bunch of Hillary Clinton supporters to go out and vote (and no one else) seems entirely more realistic because of the data they have on each of us, but again – they offer no evidence showing it actually happens. Just that it could.

A paragraph from the article summarizes this,

“Remember what the search algorithm is doing: in response to your query, it is selecting a handful of webpages from among the billions that are available, and it is ordering those webpages using secret criteria. Seconds later, the decision you make or the opinion you form – about the best toothpaste to use, whether fracking is safe, where you should go on your next vacation, who would make the best president, or whether global warming is real – is determined by that short list you are shown, even though you have no idea how the list was generated.”

It’s not all entirely secret. Many of the criteria are known and much of the data is readily available. Just because the author has no idea how they are ordered, doesn’t make the manner in which they are ordered a nefarious activity.

The key is to influence undecided voters. There are actually data-driven ways to look at a search phrases they might use like “us presidential candidates” and determine if the results are being manipulated to favor one candidate or another.

For gloating alone, there are thousands of people in this industry that would love nothing more than to catch Google manipulating their search results. However, no one has been able to present any strong evidence to support this from what I’ve seen. Most in the industry also understand how the rankings work.

Personally, I believe the vast majority of the Internet is biased based on the primary demographics of its users and search engines reflect that as a result of their activity. In other words, the rest of the Internet world strongly favors the Democratic elements of global society. Is that because Google is influencing them? No, I don’t think so.

By example, and according to Alexa, left-leaning CNN is ranked #81 and is the most popular news source on the web, followed by the left-leaning New York Times (#101) and Huffington Post (#134). The most popular right-leaning news resource, Fox News, ranks #208 with The Drudge Report all the way down at #605. Newsmax is even further down the list.

It’s the activity of Internet users that ultimately decide how search engine rankings play out (specifically what they like to read about, engage with, and share).

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