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Democracy at Risk: Manipulating Search Rankings Can Shift Voting Preferences Substantially Without Voter Awareness

US Association for Psychological Science, May 2013


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Resource information:
Resource IDepsteinrobertson2013
Resource titleDemocracy at Risk: Manipulating Search Rankings Can Shift Voting Preferences Substantially Without Voter Awareness
Author(s)Robert Epstein and Ronald E. Robertson
Publication/ sourceUS Association for Psychological Science
Date publishedMay 2013
Summary text/ abstractIn a double-blind controlled experiment, web pages and search engine results from an actual election were presented to three groups of eligible voters. In two of the groups, rankings favored one candidate or the other. Preferences shifted dramatically toward favored candidates, with 75% of subjects showing no awareness of the manipulation. In a second experiment, voter preferences again shifted in the predicted direction, and the proportion of people who were unaware of the manipulation was increased by slightly altering the rankings to mask the favoritism. In a third experiment, a more aggressive mask was used to hide the manipulation, and no subjects appeared to be aware of it, even though voter preferences still shifted in the predicted directions. We conclude (1) that the outcomes of real elections – especially tight races – could conceivably be determined by the strategic manipulation of search engine rankings and (2) that the manipulation could be accomplished without people being aware of it.
Library categoriesAnarchism & Action, Direct Action & Protest, Hacktivism, Neo-Luddism, Politics
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