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Google May Influence Elections

September 7, 2015

We all know the marketing powerhouse that is Search Engine Optimization. Within that sphere, there’s no bigger juggernaut than Google, owning over two-thirds of all web searches in the United States. But how far does Google’s influence reach?

Quite a bit it seems.

Using a simulated search engine with rigged results in favor of a particular candidate, undecided voters were swayed by margins greater than the typical electoral margin of victory in modern presidential races. In addition, the study found, certain demographic groups were more susceptible to search engine influence than others. The study, which can be found here http://www.pnas.org/content/112/33/E4512.abstract shows how tech is becoming an ever larger part of our lives – in more than the most obvious ways.

It’s really, REALLY unlikely that Google would do anything to skew their algorithm for one political side over the other. After all, they have built their reputation on impartiality and user experience. However, SEO looks like it may be a bigger part of the next election than anyone could imagine. And with fresh content and with news articles enjoying prominent real estate on search engines, online media may eventually rival traditional media in their electoral sway.

Far more concerning with regard to influence, is social media, due to the sheer amount of data that is collected on each and every user. This data can easily be used to tailor messages to particular groups – legally or otherwise. The result could be hundreds of thousands of votes in one direction.

Unlike traditional media, there doesn’t exist the same specific and explicit regulation of political messaging in the social media sphere. Whether there should be more regulation at all is a question in and of itself. Ultimately, however, we are entering uncharted territory and we can only wait to see how technology will influence our politics.