Saturday, June 11, 2016

SEME - Search Engine Manipulation Effect

WARNING: Don't Google the term SEME without the context shown below; I did and it was gross.

This blogpost is about a potentially huge perceptor if in fact true. From Fortune, "Robert Epstein, a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, and colleague Ronald E. Robertson recently conducted an experiment in which they conclude that Google GOOG has the power to rig the 2016 presidential election. They call it the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME).

Through five experiments in two countries, they found that biased rankings in search results can shift the opinions of undecided voters by 20% or more, sometimes even reaching as high as 80% in some demographic groups. If Google tweaks its algorithm to show more positive search results for a candidate, the researchers say, the searcher may form a more positive opinion of him or her.

Considering the fact that most presidential elections are won by small margins, Epstein believes that biased Google search rankings could potentially decide the outcome of an election."

I have been doing research on search engine rankings for the words Trump and Clinton and other related terms. There is something happening that is hard to explain. Though the news about Trump is consistently being published, the number of results in a Google search for that name are decreasing. If I wasn't tracking this for myself, I would tend to dismiss Epstein as a kook.

Science magazine has a pretty good article on the topic and reports the results of an experiment run in the USA, "The large sample size—and additional details provided by users—allowed the researchers to pinpoint which demographics were most vulnerable to search engine manipulation: Divorcees, Republicans, and subjects who reported low familiarity with the candidates were among the easiest groups to influence, whereas participants who were better informed, married, or reported an annual household income between $40,000 and $50,000 were harder to sway. Moderate Republicans were the most susceptible of any group: The manipulated search results increased the number of undecided voters who said they would choose the favored candidate by 80%."

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