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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

How search engine companies ‘manipulate votes’ – US



The American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology (AIBRT) has revealed in a study how search engine companies could indeed manipulate votes during electoral or democratic processes.


In the top 10 search engines globally Google leads with 82.80 per cent, followed by Yahoo with 6.42 per cent, Baidu 4.89 per cent, Bing 3.91 per cent, Yandex 1.7 per cent, Ask 0.52 per cent and AOL 0.3 per cent as at May 2011.

ITRealms recalls that experts at Wikipedia described a web search engine as a software code that is designed to search for information on the World Wide Web (www).

Notable is that the search results are generally presented in a line of results often referred to as search engine results pages (SERP's). Hence, the information may be a specialist in web pages, images, information and other types of files. While some search engines also mine data available in databases or open directories.

They also explained that unlike web directories, which are maintained only by human editors, search engines also maintain real-time information by running an algorithm on a web crawler.

However, the AIBRT claim is given weight with the growing number of search engines and Internet adaption globally, which currently stood at about 2,405,518,376 internet users on June 30, 2012 with Africa recording 167,385,751 Internet users as at December 31, 2012.

ITRealms gathered that the researchers led by Dr. Epstein Robertson noted that even more worrisome is the fact that these search engine companies lead by Google as most outstanding could probably be pushed to almost 100 per cent of votes in any electoral process with adequate resources available to the company.

According to him, about 75 per cent of participants in democratic process were unaware that any manipulation could take place in the first instance.

He pointed out that in a second experiment, his team discovered that the manipulation could be masked, boosting the number of people who were oblivious to the manipulation to over 85 per cent, a figure that Dr. Epstein says, could be advanced to the highest figure.

“These results are really shocking,” Dr. Epstein said, adding that his team knew that voters are exposed to a large variety of influences during political campaigns: television advertisements, rallies, debates, and newspaper support.

However, search ranking manipulation could exert a disproportionately large influence over voters for a number of reasons.

“Most sources of influence are explicit and obvious in their support of one candidate or party, for example a newspaper article might be clearly one sided, making it easier to see the manipulation. Ranking changes are, in theory, undetectable and those searching don’t know that they are only being presented with one side of the story.

“People approach Google from the perspective that what it tells you is unbiased or neutral.  But as a business, that company or any company, will certainly favor some candidates over others – candidates that are good for the business.”

The study was conducted under the auspices of the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology in Vista, California (USA), a non-profit, non-partisan research organization.

Remmy Nweke 

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