Published : Tuesday, March 26, 2019 | 5:17 AM
Researcher will present study next month at the 99th annual meeting of the Western Psychological Association in Pasadena which he says indicates Google searches are politically biased.
Dr. Robert Epstein, a San Diego-based psychologist who’s currently making waves after he published articles saying search engine results, particularly on Google, could have easily shifted undecided voters to favor Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterm elections, will be presenting details of a related study in Pasadena next month, during the 99th convention of the Western Psychological Association (WPA).
Dr. Epstein is Senior Research Psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology.
Hosted by the California State University, Los Angeles, the four-day Pasadena convention, April 25-28, will feature over 30 distinguished speakers, with poster and paper sessions, symposia, and workshops throughout each day, Thursday through Sunday.
For both professionals and students of psychology, the conference is an opportunity to meet students and professors from other colleges, visit with representatives of graduate programs, learn about new books from major publishers, and attend special programs and social events planned throughout the convention.
Dr. Epstein will present his study, “Evidence of Systematic Political Bias in Online Search Results in the 10 Days Leading Up to the 2018 U.S. Midterm Elections,” on Friday, April 26, at 10 a.m., according to the WPA convention program.
A report published in 2015 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), showed that search-engine search results that favor one candidate can shift voting preferences among undecided voters by 20 percent or more – up to 80 percent in some demographic groups.
The report also showed that the manipulation can easily be masked so that it is invisible to users.
Epstein dubbed this effect the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME), and several investigations, including one by the European Commission, have confirmed that search results by Google, the search engine used to conduct about 90 percent of searches worldwide, are often biased in ways that serve the company’s financial or political goals.
In his new study, Epstein, with fellow AIBRT psychologist Emily M. Williams, recruited an anonymous, Nielsen-type network of field agents to preserve election-related searches on Google, Bing, and Yahoo during the 10 days preceding the 2018 U.S. midterm elections.
Data collection focused mainly on three hotly contested Congressional races in Republican districts in California, all of which were won by the Democratic candidates.
As many as 47,294 searches were preserved, along with the 392,274 web pages to which the search results linked. Search suggestions and answer boxes were also preserved.
“Using a state-of-the-art deep learning algorithm to look for political bias in the web pages, we found that Google search results were significantly more liberal than non-Google search results,” Epstein said. “The study demonstrates the feasibility of creating large-scale systems to evaluate bias in online content in real time, sufficient to expose large-scale vote manipulations by content providers as the manipulations are occurring. The study also suggests that Google’s search algorithm may have shifted large numbers of votes toward Democratic candidates in the midterm elections with no one knowing this had occurred.”
Epstein’s research and subsequent articles he published related to search engines being able to manipulate political opinion were the subject of “The Creepy Line,” a documentary released by Virginia film maker MA Taylor and former Breitbart editor Peter Schweizer last year.
As a long-time psychology researcher and professor, Epstein describes himself as “passionate about educating the public about advances in mental health and the behavioral sciences.”
He was the editor-in-chief of Psychology Today and a contributing editor for Scientific American Mind. He is also the founder and Director Emeritus of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies in Massachusetts.
For more information about the upcoming Western Psychological Association convention in Pasadena, visit www.westernpsych.org/convention.