Senior research psychologist, Harvard prof. warn: Facebook, Google could ‘rig’ election

Facebook -- Zuckerberg rig

In an article posted early Friday morning at the Daily Caller, Dr. Robert Epstein, a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology and the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, and Benjamin Edelman, an associate professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School, warned that the upcoming election could very well be rigged, but not in the old-fashioned way GOP nominee Donald Trump and others suggest.  Instead of party machines, they argue that high-tech companies like Google and Facebook could rig the election using tools that are completely legal.

According to the article:

Unnoticed by most observers, and apparently even by Trump himself, is a new style of tampering available to high tech companies – Google and Facebook, in particular. By shaping the information we see on our computers and phones, they can shift large numbers of votes without anyone realizing what happened.

Compared to the election shenanigans of prior generations, new tech-enabled interventions are arguably more worrisome. For one, these tactics are not competitive; they require powerful allies which, at present, only the Democrats seem to have. Plus, they operate almost invisibly, evading current monitoring systems and leaving little trace for authorities to analyze. And some are so new that they are beyond the reach of existing laws and regulations.

High tech manipulations

The article continues:

Other high-tech manipulations are also possible. In May, a whistleblower claimed that Facebook personnel were deliberately removing conservative posts from newsfeeds. Could biased newsfeeds tip the preferences of some undecided voters? Online services such as Tinder’s Swipe-the-Vote claim to be able to match people’s issue preferences with the right candidate. But who controls the matching algorithm? If the algorithm were biased toward one candidate, who would notice and when?

Worse yet, they argue, these manipulations work because most people think that whatever they see on their computer is impartial and objective when it isn’t.

Sites like Google and Facebook don’t really have any competition, they add, making it “difficult if not impossible to counter the impact of their support.”  Moreover, it’s nearly impossible to detect the manipulation.

Supporting Democrats

This, they say, is urgent, because titans like Facebook and Google generally favor Democrats:

Multiple investigative reports have documented Google’s strong support for both President Obama and Hillary Clinton. The President’s Chief Technology Officer, Megan Smith, is a former Google executive, as is Mrs. Clinton’s Chief Technology Officer, Stephanie Hannon. Since Mr. Obama became president, Google employees have visited the White House more than 420 times, and more than 250 people have swapped high positions between Google and the Obama administration.

In 2015, Eric Schmidt, Chairman of Alphabet (the holding company that owns Google), bankrolled a secretive company called The Groundwork that provides the Clinton campaign all manner of software engineering, including supporting both fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts. If Schmidt had contributed through a PAC, he would have been prohibited from coordinating with Clinton’s campaign. By structuring his gift as a tech startup, he can make unlimited contributions as an “investment” and still coordinate with the campaign.

And, they add, “these manipulations are legal, so companies with strong preferences have every reason to use them. But we can’t know the full extent of the problem until whistleblowers come forward, warrants are issued, or watchdog agencies establish comprehensive monitoring systems.”

The whole piece, which can be seen here, is well worth reading.


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Banned: How Facebook enables militant Islamic jihad
Banned: How Facebook enables militant Islamic jihad – Source: Author (used with permission)

Joe Newby

A 10-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Joe ran for a city council position in Riverside, Calif., in 1991 and managed successful campaigns for the Idaho state legislature. Co-author of "Banned: How Facebook enables militant Islamic jihad," Joe wrote for Examiner.com from 2010 until it closed in 2016 and his work has been published at Newsbusters, Spokane Faith and Values and other sites. He now runs the Conservative Firing Line.

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