Search Engine Manipulation Can Swing Votes: U.S. Study

WASHINGTON: Analysing the just concluded Indian election, a U.S. researcher has suggested that altering search results has a major effect on the voting preferences of undecided voters and could swing a close election.

Undecided voters paid far more attention to search rankings than previously thought and as such search results can alter the outcome by up to 12 percent in some cases without a majority of the voters realising it, suggests a study led by Robert Epstein.

A senior research psychologist at the California-based American Institute for Behavioural Research and Technology, Epstein wanted to see if the higher ranking of a political candidate had a similar effect on voters as it does in the case of a product.

Epstein recruited more than 2,000 undecided voters between the ages of 18 and 70 from 26 of India's 28 states. The voters were allotted 15 minutes to read search results of a fictitious search engine called "Kadoodle".

These favoured one of the three leading prime ministerial candidates: Rahul Gandhi of the Congress Party, Arvind Kejriwal of Aaam Aadmi Party or Narendra Modi of Bharatiya Janata Party.

Epstein and his team found that the search engine rankings favouring a particular candidate drove around 12 percent of the votes toward that candidate.
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Source: IANS