A new effort wants to monitor Google and other search engines for political bias that might enable the skewing of elections.
The Sunlight Society would have people around the world conduct searches and send results to a central place to be studied for possible bias.
The initiative is being led by Robert Epstein, a former editor in chief of Psychology Today and co-founder of a behavioral research institute in California. Epstein has a history with Google — which has been dismissive of his research — but his latest effort has the support of 12 academics who say that such a study is important, the Washington Post reports.
A couple of years ago, Epstein conducted experiments with a fictitious search engine and concluded that a search engine could manipulate election results by pushing up and down certain links about candidates.
Then, Epstein said that during the 2016 presidential campaign, search results were biased toward Hillary Clinton.
“We don’t know what caused these patterns of bias,” Epstein’s research, conducted with a couple of colleagues, said. “But no matter what the cause or causes, given the power of search rankings to shift votes and opinions without people’s awareness, they are a matter for concern,”
Google called Epstein’s research “nothing more than a poorly constructed conspiracy theory,” according to the Post.
“We have never re-ranked search results on any topic (including elections) to manipulate political sentiment,” the company told the Post.
But what about what others do? Amid concerns about fake news affecting the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, a recent report showed that right-wing websites seem to have gamed Google’s algorithms, affecting the search engine’s autocomplete function. And Google itself has acknowledged that there’s a problem with fake news — to the point that it vowed to ban its ads from websites that feature fake news.
Above: Screen shot of Google search page.