by Eric Lieberman
A psychologist researcher claims that Google’s search suggestions are biased in favor of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and he has evidence from a study to back it up.
“It is somewhat difficult to get the Google search bar to suggest negative searches related to Mrs. Clinton or to make any Clinton-related suggestions when one types a negative search term,” writes Dr. Robert Epstein, Senior Research Psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology.
While Epstein first released his findings to Sputnik, a Russian state-sponsored news agency, the study was conducted with associate researchers at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology (AIBRT), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in San Diego.
Epstein, who has published 15 books on artificial intelligence and other subjects, writes “for the record, I have chosen to publish this article through Sputnik News because Sputnik agreed to publish it in unedited form in order to preserve the article’s accuracy.”
Epstein first became interested in the topic after two YouTube videos, (one abridged) surfaced in June that seemingly proved Google’s bias in favor of Hillary Clinton. The videos narrator, Matt Lieberman (no relation to this author) shows a variety of screen prints that appear to only generate positive suggestions for Clinton, while there were negative suggestions for former Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
He knew this was extremely significant since Epstein, along with Ronald E. Robertson, published a scientific study last year that showed that “internet search rankings have a significant impact on consumer choices, mainly because users trust and choose higher-ranked results more than lower-ranked results.”
Google adamantly denied the allegations. “Google Autocomplete does not favor any candidate or cause,” a company spokesperson told The Washington Times.
“Claims to the contrary simply misunderstand how Autocomplete works. Our Autocomplete algorithm will not show a predicted query that is offensive or disparaging when displayed in conjunction with a person’s name. More generally, our autocomplete predictions are produced based on a number of factors including the popularity of search terms,” the official statement continued.
To determine if Lieberman’s or Google’s claims were true, Epstein himself decided to compare Google’s search suggestions with other popular search engines, like Yahoo and Bing. They were sure to use proxy servers, even sometimes the encrypted Tor network, to ensure that the identify of the researchers were not known.
Such a precaution is critical of the “personalization problem.” Google’s search engine tracks patterns and analyzes compiled data on users’ computers, and thus search results can and will be different depending on the person.
Epstein states the bias was nonetheless very evident. Google contends it avoid offering suggestions that portray people in a negative light, but the opposite seems to be true.
When typing in “hillary clinton is” the next two suggestions Google offered was “hillary clinton is winning” and “hillary clinton is awesome.”
In comparison, when typing in “hillary clinton is” into Yahoo or Bing’s search engine, the top results include “hillary clinton is a liar,” “hillary clinton is a filthy liar,” “hillary clinton is a criminal,” “hillary clinton is corrupt,” and “hillary clinton is evil” among many other negative descriptions.
Epstein and his fellow researchers eventually found bias in a number of search queries, including ones about Clinton’s health, her running mate Tim Kaine, and even “Who will be the next president?”
“Google suppresses negative suggestions selectively, not across the board. It is easy to get autocomplete to suggest negative searches related to prominent people, one of who happens to be Mrs. Clinton’s opponent,” Epstein explained.
They ultimately concluded that Google restrains negative search terms for Clinton even when those terms are highly popular and trending.
Epstein highlights a fundamental problem — “Without whistleblowers or warrants, no one can prove Google executives are using digital shenanigans to influence elections.”
Google’s search engine has played favorites before. Both Donald Trump and Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson were omitted from Google results when searching “presidential candidates.” Clinton, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont were the only names that showed up, even though Bernie had effectively dropped out of the race at the time and had endorsed Clinton publicly.
Silicon Valley and the tech industry as a whole have been accused of political censorship and burying conservative news for a number of apparently biased instances.
While the study conducted by the researchers at AIBRT has not yet been published in a scientific journal, Epstein gives three critical reasons why he is talking about this publicly:
“First, the results of the study on autocomplete I completed recently are strong and easy to interpret. Second, these results are consistent with volumes of research that has already been conducted on two well-known psychological processes: negativity bias and confirmation bias. And third, the November election is growing near, and the results of my new experiment are relevant to that election — perhaps even of crucial importance.”
Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.