The new report that Trump said shows Google 'manipulated' 2.6 million votes for Hillary Clinton is a two-year-old study that a San Diego psychologist based on 95 people (GOOG, GOOGL)

President Donald Trump

  • On Monday morning, President
    Donald Trump tweeted
    that a “report just out” confirmed
    Google
    had “manipulated” millions of votes in favor of Hillary Clinton in
    the 2016 election. 
  • The president’s claims, however, were based on past studies by
    psychologist Robert Epstein that Google claims have been “debunked”
    and experts tell Business Insider made “weird methodological
    choices.” 
  • One of Epstein’s study — which claims 2.6 million votes
    shifted in favor of Clinton due to a bias in Google’s search
    results — only surveyed 95 participants, for instance, and even
    then, some of the results were thrown out because they did not
    display enough bias. 
  • Visit Business
    Insider’s homepage for more stories
    .

On Monday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted that a “report
just out” showed that Google
“manipulated” millions of votes in favor of Hillary Clinton in the
2016 election.

“Google should be sued,” the president declared in his tweet,
which said that Google manipulated between 2.6 million and 16
million votes in Clinton’s favor. “My victory was even bigger than
thought!” 

President Trump, who received 2.9 million fewer votes than
Clinton in the 2016 election despite winning the Electoral College,
did not link to or explicitly cite the report. His tweet
immediately sent surprised industry observers scrambling to find
the blockbuster research report they had somehow missed.

It turns out, the report Trump appears to have been referring to
was a 2017 report by a San Diego psychologist with a history of
feuding with Google. The report, which one expert on the US
election process characterized to Business Insider as having a
“weird” methodology and lots of “red flags,” was based on 95
participants. 

So what is this report?

One of the figures Trump cited in his tweet (2.6 million votes)
tied his comments to the recent testimony of San Diego psychologist
Robert Epstein, who appeared before a Senate Judiciary Committee
hearing in July entitled, “Google and Censorship through Search
Engines.” 

Wow, Report Just Out! Google manipulated
from 2.6 million to 16 million votes for Hillary Clinton in 2016
Election! This was put out by a Clinton supporter, not a Trump
Supporter! Google should be sued. My victory was even bigger than
thought! @JudicialWatch

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)
August 19, 2019

In
his testimony
, Epstein — a self-proclaimed Democrat — said
that at a “rock bottom minimum” Google swayed 2.6 million votes in
favor of Hillary Clinton because of biases present in its search
results. 

“The range is between 2.6 and 10.4 million votes depending on
how aggressively they were in using the techniques that I’ve been
studying now for six-and-a-half years,” Epstein told the committee.
(It’s not clear where Trump arrived at the 16 million votes figure,
at the high end of his range).

Epstein, a former Editor-in-Chief of Psychology Today, is
Senior Research
Psychologist at American Institute for Behavioral Research and
Technology,
a non-profit California group that promotes and
conducts research that has the potential to “increase the
well-being and functioning of people worldwide.” 

Robert Epstein

In 2012,Epstein
had a public spat with Google
, after the search engine warned
users that his website had been infected by malware. Epstein also
is quoted about Google’s supposed search manipulation in a series
of 2016 articles on
sites such as RT
and
Sputniknews.com
that claimed the search engine was hiding
information about Hilary Clinton’s health problems. 

Just how Epstein got to his “rock bottom” number about Google’s
manipulated votes is being questioned by law experts. 

What’s the evidence Google “manipulated” 2.6 million votes for
Clinton?

Epstein’s findings are based on a phenomenon he says he’s been
studying for more than six years. He calls it the “Search Engine
Manipulation Effect.”

The crux of the theory, as he explained it in the 2016
sputniknews article, is simple:  “All Google has to do is show
people search results that favor one candidate, in this case
Hillary Clinton, higher in search results.” 

In other words, the higher positive information about one
candidate shows up in search results, the more likely voters will
be to favor that candidate.

How Google ranks its search results is a black box. The
algorithms Google uses to decide which websites are most relevant
are considered one of its crown jewels. And while Google provides
guidance on how websites can improve their search rankings, it
keeps the specific criteria a secret to prevent the system from
being gamed.

The lack of transparency by Google has caused a lot of suspicion
over the years, with competitors such as Yelp arguing that the
search engine does not give everyone equal treatment. And in 2017
theEuropean
Union fined Google $2.9 billion
for demoting rival comparison
shopping sites in its search results. More recently, conservative
commentators have charged that Google is deliberately suppressing
them from its results — a claim that has so far not been
proven.

The 2.6 million Hillary Clinton vote number appears to have
originally turned up in a
2017 study co-authored by Epstein
, which aimed at finding
whether Google introduced bias in search results in the lead up to
the 2016 presidential election and whether those results had an
impact on the election itself. 

The study — which was based on 95 participants in 24 US states
— stated, in part, that when extrapolating from a
2015 study also authored by Epstein
, at least 2.6 million votes
were “shifted” in favor of Clinton due to bias in Google’s search
results. 

But the 2015 study’s findings were based on asking US residents
to cast hypothetical votes for candidates in Australia’s 2010 prime
ministerial election based on information they saw in Google search
results. 

Screen Shot 2019 08 19 at 5.34.02 PM

Dr. Michael McDonald, an Associate Professor of Political
Science at University of Florida, told Business Insider that he
didn’t necessarily believe Epstein’s 2015 findings regarding
Google’s search rankings influencing American decisions about
elections in Australia — a topic most Americans study
participants would have little information about beforehand —
could be applied directly to the US presidential elections.

“I’m not sure if this really apples to US elections where we
have partisan politics going on and lots of other information that
people have,” Dr. McDonald said. “You don’t need to look at the top
of Google search results for your information about how you’re
going to cast your vote for president.”

“That’s something that sets off a bunch of red flags.” 

Justin Levitt, an Associate Dean for Research and professor at
Loyola Law School who focuses on constitutional law and the law of
democracy, told Business Insider that there are multiple points of
contention with Epstein’s 2017 findings, which have become the
basis for the president’s contentious tweet on Monday. 

For one, Epstein writes in his report that after the study was
completed, results from participants using Google’s email service,
Gmail, were discarded, thus changing the number of eligible
participants to a lower, undisclosed number.

Epstein said Gmail users were removed because some of their
search queries appeared “automated” and overall, those using
Google’s email service saw results that were far less biased than
non-Gmail users. 

“That’s a weird methodological choice to take some of your
results and throw them out after you’ve done the experiment because
they seem to not fit your designed story,” Levitt said. “That’s
something that sets off a bunch of red flags.” 

In his study, Epstein writes that the decisions to discard
Gmail-using participants came, in part, to the possibility that
Google itself had identified the study’s “confidants through its
gmail system and targeted them to receive unbiased results.” 

Another problem Levitt has with the study is Epstein’s
definition of the word “bias” itself. Levitt says that the
mainstream media tends to be left-leaning and so finding more
pro-Clinton results in 2016 might have been less Google bias and
more a result of the media landscape. 

What does Google say?

Google told Business Insider that Epstein’s claims were
“inaccurate” and said that his 2015 study, which found search
rankings can easily influence undecided voters, had since been
“debunked.” 

“This researcher’s
inaccurate claim
has been debunked since it was made
in 2016
. As we stated then, we have never re-ranked or altered
search results to manipulate political sentiment. Our goal is to
always provide people with access to high quality, relevant
information for their queries, without regard to political
viewpoint,” a Google spokesperson said. 

Rick Pildes, a New York University Law Professor, told Business
Insider that tech companies — including Google — indeed have
the power to sway elections in major ways, but that doesn’t
necessarily mean search results shifted millions of votes, like
Epstein’s report claims. 

“We absolutely have to worry about the social media giants
manipulating election-related information, whether intentionally or
not,” Pildes said. “But it’s massively irresponsible to claim to
know anything this specific and concrete about what information
moved millions of voters to cast votes as they did.” 

SEE ALSO: Google
has quietly hired a key executive from controversial startup
Palantir to be a VP of engineering


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The new report that Trump said shows Google 'manipulated' 2.6 million votes for Hillary Clinton is a two-year-old study that a San Diego psychologist based on 95 people (GOOG, GOOGL)