Many of you will probably remember the science experiment that Facebook ran a few months ago. They “adjusted” the Facebook algorithm to vary the number of positive and negative comments that users saw on their Feeds and then measured the number of positive and negative posts those users subsequently posted. Seeing more positive posts made users more positive. Seeing more negative posts made users more negative.
But here is the true conspiracy theory version of that. Note – Google has not done this (at least not that we know about). But if it is possible, it becomes a major concern, at least for some researchers at the think tank that investigated the possibility.
What if Google does something similar to Facebook but with political news (described in this Fortune article)? What if they show a little more positive news about one party and a little more negative news about the other party in searches about the US Presidential campaign? It wouldn’t change most people’s opinions or their votes. It wouldn’t change mine. It wouldn’t change yours.
But there are over 200 million registered voters and several states are won by just thousands of votes. Even if only 1 in 100 people get their news online (2 million) and Google influences the votes of only 1 in 100 of these users (20,000) some of whom live in a swing state, that could change the outcome. And it would be completely invisible because the changes on Google would be too small for any one user to notice. And the algorithm is a total secret, invisible even to the NSA and Edward Snowden.
- Do you think they would?
- Do you think they will?
- Do you care?
If the answers to these questions are yes, what should be done? The researchers at the think tank want some serious action.