The internet has spawned subtle forms of influence that can flip elections and manipulate everything we say, think and do
Google decides which web pages to include in search results, and how to rank them.
That ordered list is so good, in fact, that about 50 per cent of our clicks go to the top two items, and more than 90 per cent of our clicks go to the 10 items listed on the first page of results; few people look at other results pages, even though they often number in the thousands, which means they probably contain lots of good information.
I began to wonder whether highly ranked search results could be impacting more than consumer choices. Perhaps, I speculated, a top search result could have a small impact on people’s opinions about things.
The shift we had produced, which we called the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (or SEME, pronounced ‘seem’), appeared to be one of the largest behavioural effects ever discovered.
on election day in 2010, Facebook sent ‘go out and vote’ reminders to more than 60 million of its users. The reminders caused about 340,000 people to vote who otherwise would not have. … given the massive amount of information it has collected about its users, Facebook could easily send such messages only to people who support one particular party or candidate
if Google set about to fix an election, it could identify just those voters who are undecided. Then it could send customised rankings favouring one candidate to just those people
The technology that now surrounds us is not just a harmless toy; it has also made possible undetectable and untraceable manipulations of entire populations – manipulations that have no precedent in human history and that are currently well beyond the scope of existing regulations and laws.