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How Easily Search Engines Can Change Our Opinions

Brandon

September 22, 2015
Brandon

Google’s search algorithm has a dramatic impact on our lives. Because 90% of users do not venture past the first page, Google’s search engine decides on the majority of the content we see and don’t see. As a consumer, this could be something simple such as the products we end up purchasing. But for a business owner, Google can indirectly decide the success of your company in whether or not your link shows up on that first page. When it comes to political opinions, people are swayed much more easily than they may hope to believe.

Research done by Robert Epstein and Ronald E. Robertson found that with their mock search engine they were to improve the favorability of a candidate by around 40-60%. Interestingly, this search engine always showed the same thirty results to participants with only a rearranged order of search results. Yet the ordering of those results had huge impacts. In the most extreme case, 80% of moderate Republicans, shifted into either political direction.

Although their experiment tested political opinions, the same concept can be applied to anything we search on the web. The effect of Google’s search engine is so below our level of consciousness that it is easy to mistake the material it may just happen to promote as instead factual information promoted on merit. With Google having such a large reach, little changes in the way it filters through web pages can have dramatic impacts on our lives. This study doesn’t underlay how successful Google is, but it highlights the importance in skepticism and the need to try and expose oneself to multiple opinions and sources.

Read more here.