Friday, August 09, 2019

Manipulating 6,000,000 Votes

I admit I am suspicious of the 2.6-10.4 M votes manipulated by Google number. Even to a person like me, who believes that Evan Thomas was approximately correct when he stated in 2000 that the media gave Democrats a 15% head start in elections, that seems to me a large number. But let's look at it a bit.

It does not represent "zero to one hundred" changes, of people who would absolutely have pulled a lever for Trump but were gradually turned to broken-glass Hillary voters. Those manipulative tactics would start with some low-hanging fruit, or people who were already Hillary supporters but weren't sure they were going to make the effort to go to the polls.   A steady stream of group support implied to people using Google search results might increase the feeling that it was one's civic duty to vote for Ms. Clinton.  Steering people toward things that were distasteful about her opponent would increase the feeling that "something just has to be done." Repeated over time, this could increase their anger. On the other side of the coin, steering people toward results that show HRC was either a brave, noble advocate for women and the oppressed, or that painted her as a victim unfairly maligned, might also steel the resolve of the half-committed. Still, the search results I seek are not often political, but matters of unrelated facts, such as medieval history or linguistics, or definitions of obscures words and phrases. How much influence can they have?

Or are they not so neutral? What if I am looking up to see if a certain story I remember about the Bush administration is true? I can wade through a few unsympathetic sources claiming it is untrue or giving an alternative explanation in the two lead-in sentences the search engine provides - HuffPo? Yeah, I'm not clicking that. Slate? Nope. Yet what if I have gone all the way through page two and haven't found the support I sought?  Might I not just grow weary and sigh "Well, maybe that one was fake news then.  Too bad." Hmm.

There is a double effect.  Fanatics make up a greater percentage of people who will keep going to further pages, or attack the question from a different set of requests. That's bad optics for your side, when it's World News Daily carrying the story. Note:  WND gets plenty of stories right.  They just overinterpret too many things or jump the gun on them, making them not worth my time.  Yet they are right sometimes. So Google driving people deeper not only discourages the mainstream, it encourages fanatics.  Bonus.

I have been willing the credit media with massive amounts of influence because of it's long-term, unrelenting nature. 15% was not too high.  It might be now, as conservative media has come on the scene, influencing another group of people in that long-term, unrelenting way. I was initially reluctant to credit Google with such influence with a simple "Go vote" reminder and shading a few search results.  But Google, plus Twitter censoring, plus Facebook redirection gives a human being a sense of "what my culture is thinking," and we have covered before that we are sensitive to such things at a primal level, being worried about being excluded from food, jobs, mates, and friends if we are outside our culture's norms.  We will risk exclusion for cause, but we don't like it.  We prefer not to see it. 

I have noted many times - it is one of the main themes of the blog - that social acceptance is a bigger driver for liberals than conservatives. It shows up in too many unrelated areas to be a mere accident. We are all somewhat affected - no one likes to be without friends - but the power and percentages are different.  Liberals accept the conventional wisdom that the 80s were the Decade of Greed, or that white people from Arkansas are probably less intelligent than they are, even when it is incidental to their point, because pushing back against that takes energy, and worse, it entails risk.

I would like to see something in the way of numbers from Dr. Epstein, rather than this "it stands to reason" argument (including my own).  Yet i can see a way forward with this after all.


james said...

Most of us won't click on the click-bait or tending headlines, but we see them, and they're short enough that we read them, anyway. They help define the culture. (I use yahoo mail still, and when you log out you get a long long long page of headline stories. Huffpo features prominently.). Unless you actively seek out news sources, that gives you the default understanding of the news.

I suspect that "swing" voters are mostly voters who aren't that interested in politics. It wouldn't take much nudging to shift their view of candidates.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Bing does that as well, though you can shut the feature off. The stories they choose have a definite slant.

Donna B. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donna B. said...

Headlines often do not accurately reflect what the article is about. The headline itself is the click bait and the article might conclude something opposite. Don't blame the author, as they don't get to write the headline in traditional news settings.

One of my first jobs (in the early 1970s) was typesetter for a small local newspaper. That's where I learned to never fully accept the reported version of any event. I'm still friends (on FB and IRL) with the editor I clashed with back then. His point then was that it was his paper thus his viewpoint ruled. I'm pretty sure that today I'd just be fired instead of told that while I was welcome to my opinion, he owned the paper and ink. I never forgot that news is always slanted.

David Foster said...

What is especially disturbing is that media have become vertically-integrated, and America's largest telecommunications companies can now play the influence game through their media subsidiaries...not totally clear to what degree they are already consciously playing it, versus just leaving the management of those subsidiaries alone in the name of corporate decentralization (or corporate cluelessness.)

CNN is owned by AT&T
NBC/MSNBC is owned by Comcast

Yahoo is owned by Verizon, and based on the daily emails I get from Yahoo News, there is major pro-Dem and anti-Trump slant going on at that entity.

David Foster said...

The attempt to use computer technology to influence elections goes back to the 1960 Kennedy campaign and a company called Simulmatics:

Of course, the potential power of such attempts is greatly increased by the widespread adoption of online search and social media.

Roy Lofquist said...

"Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half" ~ John Wanamaker.

You, me and that man behind the tree are bombarded 24/7 with messaging from the day we learned to say "mama" until day the last. If it were anyway near as effective as they would have us believe then we'd all be driving Edsels and drinking New Coke. It's just part of the background buzz of life. Most of us are with Groucho when he said "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?".

And you know what I see with my lying eyes? I see the "two minute hate" from Orwell's "1984" playing on every screen in the land.

But then I push the button, turn off the buzz, and I see something else. I see Donald Trump filling major arenas every week, week after week, in the dog days of summer, in a year without an election. And that is something I have never seen before. That is something you have never seen before. That is something that no living soul has seen before. And I am pleased.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think many of us are very little influenced by advertisements far from our interest. And if we are tempted, a single trial of a new product (or idea) is enough reality check and we remain unmoved. It is the things where we were already 30-40% convinced that can be moved, a little at a time.

It occurs to me that one reason that political campaigns want even a small contribution from you is not just the money, but because your heart will follow your cash, and it will increase your resolve to go vote. I will bet that the number of people who have sent $5 to a candidate and then changed their mind is vanishingly small.

Christopher B said...

My position is closer to Roy's, and I thought of the same quip he quoted after pondering this for a bit.

They really really want to believe Google, Facebook, and Twitter are this effective. They certainly would like conservatives to think they are, too).

This view under girds so much of their thinking. Reality doesn't matter, only the narrative. People didn't react negatively to Hillary and positively to Trump, it was a few hundred thousand in Facebook ads from Russia. They think they are smart enough to hid reality and control the narrative. They think they can nudge the common sheep. For the smarter sheep, well it's just a problem of explaining things to them. For the goats that just absolutely refuse to get with the program, they'll just dox and harass and intimidate until they give up and shut up.

It may turn out that way but it didn't in 2016, and I suspect it won't again.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Boy, I hope you guys are right. It is true that they have lost control of much of the populace. But what are the numbers?

Zachriel said...

Google rewards reputable reporting over left-wing politics, Economist study finds

Assistant Village Idiot said...

That is encouraging, except for this: "they used accuracy ratings from several sources, including fact-checking websites, tallies of Pulitzer Prizes and results from a poll by YouGov about Americans' trust in 37 different publications." The Pulitzer is actually a bad indicator of objectivity, and the other two are suspect.

Zachriel said...

Assistant Village Idiot: The Pulitzer is actually a bad indicator of objectivity, and the other two are suspect.

No, but it is an indicator of conventionality on Google's part. The other finding of the study was that Google rankings boosted viral articles. In other words, what people were most talking about were placed higher in the rankings.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

What most people online were talking about. A subtle but I think enormous difference.

I think there is something similar about the first part. Those categories are what people at Google would think was a good-faith effort, and they deserve some credit for that. They are still quite blind to the fact tha these are not actually reliably neutral. It is like listening to NPR bring in someone to give "the other side" of a story. They are in some ways nice people who want to be fair, yet in other ways do not really have a good intuitive sense what the other sides really are.

WRT the Pulitzer, BTW, my very liberal cousin, from an extremely liberal family, former editor of the very liberal Concord Monitor, is head of the committee now. He is not a mean person and has some ability to be objective. Yet not very much.