Google’s Algorithms Threaten Free and Fair Elections

In the wake of the dumpster fire that was the Mueller hearings this week, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s reputation was left in ashes, the Democrats are covered in soot, and the Russian collusion fairytale is toast. The Democrats’ impeachment hopes are also dead, whether they choose to believe it or not. But the question of election meddling remains very much a vital topic of discussion, just not in the way Democrats and the leftist corporate media would like.

While Democrats and their pundits did their best to breathe life anew into the “Russians are coming!” election meddling storyline this week, it’s obvious their only goal was to score political points. To be clear, no one—no Republican, no Democrat, no American citizen—wants to see foreign powers meddling with our elections. But does any American with more than two brain cells really think that the Russian meddling in 2016 did anything to change any statistically significant number of votes?

It’s worth remembering that the total Facebook ad buy totaled roughly $100,000. No serious person thinks that the abysmal ad content and the minuscule buys of $300 in Pennsylvania or $823 in Michigan did anything at all to move the needle in an election cycle awash in billions of dollars with trillions of Facebook posts.

Of course, none of these facts have deterred Democrats from continuing to insist that somehow Trump conspired with a foreign power and that Russian meddling swung the election. It’s ludicrous, but this, of course, didn’t prevent the Left and the mainstream media from continuing to beat this poor dead horse over and over again for years.

Honest, patriotic people don’t want to see the sanctity and integrity of our elections meddled with on any level. Which brings us to an issue of far more import and size than the absurdity of Russian meddling.

Last week, mostly lost in the news cycle of Trump versus “the squad” and the anticipation of the Mueller hearings, was the testimony of Dr. Robert Epstein in front of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution regarding the power of Google to manipulate elections. Epstein, a Harvard Ph.D. in psychology and behavioral sciences, is a Democrat who voted for Clinton in 2016. Yet what he testified to should be troubling to every American who is concerned about election integrity and the threats of manipulation by powers both foreign and domestic.

Epstein testified, based on 13,000 saved search results of American citizens and dozens of controlled experiments in the United States and abroad, that the power of the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME) generated by Google’s search algorithm likely impacted undecided voters in a way that gave at least 2.6 million votes to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Epstein explained:

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.

In January 2013, while sitting at Google’s political innovation summit in New York City, it became very clear to me that Google would have the power to influence and affect the outcomes of national elections. According to Epstein, “Google has likely been determining the outcomes of upwards of 25 percent of the national elections worldwide since at least 2015.”

But it becomes even more troubling when Epstein discussed the potential impact that Google, combined with Facebook and Twitter, could have on the election outcomes in 2020. “Big Tech in 2020, because if these companies all support the same candidate—and that’s likely, needless to say—they will be able to shift upwards of 15 million votes to that candidate with no one knowing and without leaving a paper trail,” Epstein said.

After six years of studying Google, Epstein’s solution for breaking up Google’s SEME is to make its index public, to make it into a sort of public commons to engender greater competition. I have argued that these tech companies must have their Section 230 exemptions removed and be redefined as publishers and telecommunications companies. And we have antitrust laws for a reason. The federal government has a role in breaking up what are, in fact, monopolies.

Whatever the solution may be—and I suspect it is a combination of all of the above—it’s time to get aggressive. Addressing the power of the tech companies is a winning issue with Americans across the ideological spectrum. We can hope more of our elected officials will follow the lead of Senators Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) and find the courage to rise to the occasion. Because to sit and dither, to listen to the various tech collaborators on the right mumbling about “free market” solutions, is to ensure the demise of our democratic constitutional republic.

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About Ned Ryun

Ned Ryun is a former presidential writer for George W. Bush and the founder and CEO of American Majority. You can find him on Twitter @nedryun.

Photo: DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

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