Rupert Murdoch was once asked: “of all the things in your business empire, what gives you the most pleasure?” Murdoch instantly replied: “being involved with the editor of a paper in a day-to-day campaign…trying to influence people”.
I don’t think many on the Left side of politics would argue with that.
His attacks on the Labor Government in Australia during the 2013 election campaign and the Labour Opposition in Great Britain demonstrate this.
Heavyweights in the independent media harbour the ambition that one day they too will have to power to influence election outcomes, however they are resigned to the likely scenario that it could take at least a decade for the alternative media to have the numbers to wield such power.
Now they have an unlikely ally.
Internet giant Google.
Business Insider reports that in the United States ‘Google will have a massive influence on the 2016 presidential race’ by deciding ‘which results pop up when people enter a search term’. Hm, that’s interesting. But how?
Google’s ‘search engine manipulation effect’ (SEME) allows Google to ‘take a diverse group of undecided voters, let them research the candidates on a Google-esque search engine, then tally their votes — never mentioning that the search was rigged, giving top link placement to stories supporting a selected candidate’.
So to put it simply, Google can have ‘extraordinary power over how voters cast their ballots’.
Looking at the United States again (where the research is being carried out), by making a minor tweek to its algorithms only negative or positive stories about Donald Trump will dominate the returns from a Google search.
Matt Southern from the Search Engine Journal writes that:
If Google’s search algorithm started to surface more positive results than negative for a candidate, searchers could end up having a more positive opinion of that candidate.
This kind of influence could sway election results given that most presidential elections are won by small margins.
Is this dangerous? Possibly, but no more dangerous than the control and influence that Murdoch holds.
But would Google ever do it?
Maybe. Imagine this: Al Gore had considered entering the 2016 presidential race. Did you know he was once an adviser at Google?
One of Al Gore’s first moves upon leaving office was to take a job at Google as an adviser. Al Gore took this job a full three years before the company went public in 2004, and it is rumored that Gore received stock options that were valued at as much as $40 million.
If Gore had decided to run, I’m sure someone at Google could have tweeked the algorithm to his advantage.
And we would have never known.
By the way, did I mention that Rupert Murdoch hates Google?