Robert Epstein proposes a plan to limit Google, Facebook and Twitter from manipulating up to 15 million votes in the United States. Epstein is not a conservative. He has been center/center-left my whole adult life and supported Hillary Clinton in 2016.
NOTE – The 15 million votes is based on each voter voting a complete election ballot of about 17 votes each. This means getting 1 million democratic voters out on election day would be an additional 17 million votes for Democrats. There were 87.7 million voters in the 2016 election. Epstein calculated that an additional 0.57% or 500,000 voters voted based upon a Get out to vote message from Google. This was to only Google’s audience which leans a little left. If Google did some targeting using the data they have on people, they could easily get only likely Democrat voters to see the “Get out to Vote” message.
Robert Epstein is an American psychologist, professor, author, and journalist. He earned his Ph.D. in psychology at Harvard University in 1981, was editor in chief of Psychology Today, a visiting scholar at the University of California, San Diego, and the founder and director emeritus of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies in Concord, MA.
Epstein has been a commentator for National Public Radio’s Marketplace, the Voice of America, and Disney Online.
He preserved more than 13,000 election-related searches conducted by a diverse group of Americans on Google, Bing, and Yahoo in the weeks leading up to the election, and Google search results – which dominate search in the U.S. and worldwide – were significantly biased in favor of Secretary Clinton in all 10 positions on the first page of search results in both blue states and red states.
He conducted dozens of controlled experiments in the U.S. and other countries that measure precisely how opinions and votes shift when search results favor one candidate, cause, or company. He called this shift “SEME” – the Search Engine Manipulation Effect. His first scientific paper on SEME was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in 2015 (Epstein & Robertson, 2015a) and has since been accessed or downloaded from PNAS’s website more than 200,000 times. SEME has also been replicated by a research team at one of the Max Planck Institutes in Germany.
SEME is one of the most powerful forms of influence ever discovered in the behavioral sciences, and it is especially dangerous because it is invisible to people – “subliminal,” in effect. It leaves people thinking they have made up their own minds, which is very much an illusion. It also leaves no paper trail for authorities to trace. Worse still, the very few people who can detect bias in search results shift even farther in the direction of the bias, so merely being able to see the bias doesn’t protect you from it. Bottom line: biased search results can easily produce shifts in the opinions and voting preference of undecided voters by 20 percent or more – up to 80 percent in some demographic groups.
All Google search results are, in a sense, biased. There are no equal-time rules built into Google algorithm. It always puts one widget ahead of another – and one candidate ahead of another.
SEME is an example of an “ephemeral experience,” and that’s a phrase you’ll find in internal emails that have leaked from Google recently. A growing body of evidence suggests that Google employees deliberately engineer ephemeral experiences to change people’s thinking.
On Election Day in 2018, the “Go Vote” reminder Google displayed on its home page gave one political party between 800,000 and 4.6 million more votes than it gave the other party. Those numbers might seem impossible. Epstein published his analysis in January 2019 (https://is.gd/WCdslm) (Epstein, 2019a), and it is quite conservative. Google’s data analysts presumably performed the same calculations he did before the company decided to post its prompt. In other words, Google’s “Go Vote” prompt was not a public service; it was a vote manipulation.
Epstein Solution for Google
The Epstein solution to The Google Problem is to declare Google’s massive search index – the database the company uses to generate search results – to be a public commons, accessible by all, just as a 1956 consent decree forced AT&T to share all its patents. There is precedent in both law and in Google’s own business practices to justify taking this step.
Declaring Google’s index a commons will quickly give rise to thousands of search platforms like Google.com, each competing with Google, each providing excellent search results, each serving niche audiences, large and small, exactly like newspapers and television networks and websites do now. Search will become competitive, as it was during its early years, and democracy will be protected from Google’s secretive machinations.
The three biggest threats that Google and Facebook pose to societies worldwide are barely affected by almost any intervention: the aggressive surveillance, the suppression of content, and the subtle manipulation of the thinking and behavior of more than 2.5 billion people.
Google controls 92 percent of search, with the next largest competitor, Microsoft’s Bing, drawing only 2.5%.
Google already allows this kind of sharing with some other companies. Startpage is based in the Netherlands. In 2009, Google granted Startpage access to its index in return for fees generated by ads placed near Startpage search results.
With access to Google’s index—the most extensive in the world, by far—Startpage gives you great search results, but with a difference. Google tracks your searches and also monitors you in other ways, so it gives you personalized results. Startpage doesn’t track you—it respects and guarantees your privacy—so it gives you generic results. Some people like customized results; others treasure their privacy.
In Google’s case, it would be absurd for the company to claim ownership rights over the contents of its index for the simple reason that it copied virtually all those contents. Google scraped the content by roaming the internet, examining webpages, and copying both the address of a page and language used on that page. None of those websites or any external authority ever gave Google permission to do this copying.
Did any external authority give Google permission to demote a website in its search results or to remove a website from its index? No, which is why both individuals and even top business leaders are sometimes traumatized when Google demotes or delists a website.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.