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Notable Findings:  People are currently revealing almost 40 percent more sensitive personal information online than they would if they knew the risks.  In elections, search rankings that favor one candidate over another can shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by up to 80 percent in some demographic groups. Automated search suggestions and the "featured snippet" (the answer box at the top of the page of search results) also influence people's opinions, purchases and votes without their knowledge. The search engine is, in effect, the most powerful mind control machine ever invented.

Ongoing Research:  We have discovered and are currently studying and quantifying a number of powerful and largely invisible means of manipulation that the internet has made possible: the Answer Bot Effect (ABE), the Search Suggestion Effect (SSE), the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME), the Targeted Messaging Effect (TME), the Digital Bandwagon Effect (DBE), the Opinion Matching Effect (OME) and others. All of these effects involve ephemeral events, which means, among other things, that they don't leave paper trails for authorities to trace.

 

Recognition: As of January 2018, the National Academy of Sciences ranked AIBRT's 2015 paper on the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME) to be in the top 1 percent of all scientific papers the organization monitored in all the sciences, both short-term and long-term. As of this writing (August 25, 2018), the paper has been downloaded from PNAS's website more than 100,000 times. Ongoing research on SEME suggests that search rankings are having a significant impact on many of the most important decisions people make in their lives, not just on voting preferences. Because SEME is virtually invisible as a form of social influence, it is especially dangerous.

 

Recent Publications

Epstein, R. (2018, September 26).  10 ways Big Tech can shift millions of votes in the November elections—without anyone knowing. Epoch Times.

Epstein, R. (2018, September 13). Google and Big Tech can shift millions of votes in any direction: Donald Trump is more right than he knows. USA Today.

Epstein, R. (2018, August 27). How major news organizations, universities and businesses surrender their privacy to Google. The Daily Caller

Epstein, R. (2018, June 25). Zuck off: Six reasons Mark Zuckerberg should quit Facebook now. The Daily Caller. 

Epstein, R. (2018, May 17). Taming Big Tech: The case for monitoring. Hacker Noon.

Epstein. R. (2018). Manipulating minds: The power of search engines to influence votes and opinions. In M. Moore & D. Tambini (Eds.), Digital dominance: Implications and risks (pp. 293-318). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Epstein, R. (2018). The unprecedented power of digital platforms to control opinions and votes. In G. Rolnik (Ed.), Digital platforms and concentration: Second annual antitrust and competition conference (pp. 31-33). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Epstein, R. (2018, March 22).  Cambridge Analytica is not the problem: Google and Facebook are the problem. The Daily Caller

Epstein, R., & Robertson, R. (2017). Suppressing the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME). Proceedings of the ACM: Human-Computer Interaction, 1(2), Article 42. (Note: The authorship of this article is in dispute. Until that issue is resolved, the version of this article supplied by Dr. Epstein, the principal investigator on this project, will omit two people from the list of authors: Dr. David Lazer and Dr. Christo Wilson, each of Northeastern University. Dr. Epstein has also asked the organization that published the article to withdraw it from publication. Under the official rules of that organization, people cannot be made co-authors on a publication unless "they have made substantial intellectual contributions to some components of the original work described in the manuscript." Neither Dr. Lazer nor Dr. Wilson had any involvement in any aspects of the original work. That research was completed in mid 2015, well over a year before they even became aware of the existence of the research.)

Epstein, R.  (2017, August 31).  Google's fighting hate and trolls with a dangerously mindless A.I. Fast Company.

Epstein, R., & Robertson, R.E. (2017, June 1). A method for detecting bias in search rankings, with evidence of systematic bias related to the 2016 presidential election. Vista, CA: American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, White Paper no. WP-17-02.

Epstein, R. (2017, May 28). Is it still possible to stop ‘Big Tech’ from killing democracy? The Hill.

Epstein, R. (2017, April 10). Fake news is a fake problem. Medium.

Epstein, R. (2017, March 16). Seven simple steps toward online privacy. Medium.

Epstein, R., & Zhang, S. (2016, November 30). How the Electoral College changes the value of a person, a bit like slavery did. The Hill.

Epstein, R. (2016, November 17). Fake news and Facebook: There are far more pernicious ways social media can sway elections [Letter to the Editor]. Los Angeles Times.

Epstein, R., & Edelman, B. (2016, November 4). The other elephant in the voting booth: Big Tech could rig the election. The Daily Caller.

Epstein, R. (2016) Subtle new forms of internet influence are putting democracy at risk worldwide. In N. Lee (Ed.), Google it: Total information awareness (pp. 253-259). Springer.

Epstein, R. (2016, October 14). Breaking news: Google to donate its search engine to the American public. Huffington Post.

Epstein, R. (2016, September 12). Are we being manipulated by Google’s autocomplete? Sputnik International.

Epstein, R. (2016, September 6). Free isn’t freedom: How Silicon Valley tricks us. Motherboard.

Epstein, R. (2016, September ). Cyber sway: The new mind control. Ladybeard.

Epstein, R. (2016, July). Can search engine rankings swing elections? New Internationalist.

Epstein, R. (2016, July 12). Five subtle ways Facebook could influence the US presidential election this fall. Quartz.

Epstein. R. (2016, June 22). The new censorship. U.S. News & World Report.

Epstein, R. (2016, May 4). Bigger brother: Microsoft and Google's new pact could signal the beginning of the end of personal privacy. Quartz.

Epstein, R. (2016, April 27). Google knows: In the future, Big Data will make actual voting obsolete. Quartz.

Epstein, R. (2016, February 18). The new mind control. Aeon.

Epstein, R. (2015, October 6). Google's hypocrisy. Huffington Post.

Epstein, R. (2015, September 6). Google's vote counts more than yours. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Epstein, R. (2015, September 4). Google's hypocrisy. Ora.

Epstein, R. (2015, August 19). How Google could rig the 2016 election. Politico.

Epstein, R., & Robertson, R. E. (2015, August 4). The search engine manipulation effect (SEME) and its possible impact on the outcomes of electionsProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

Epstein, R. (2014, Fall). Democracy at risk from new forms of internet influence. EMMA Magazine (a publication of the European Magazine Media Association).

Epstein, R. (2014, June 9).  How Google could end democracyU.S. News & World Report.

Epstein, R. (2014, May 29).  Google critic killed in "ironic" car accident: Struck by Google Street View vehicle.  Huffington Post.

Epstein, R. (2014, May 9). Google's snoops: Mining our private date for profit and pleasure. Dissent.

Epstein, R. (2013, May 10). Google's gotcha. U.S. News & World Report.

Epstein, R. (2013, March 27). Google's dance. TIME.

Epstein, R. (2012, November 5). Why Google should be regulated (Part 4, End). Huffington Post.

Epstein, R. (2012, November 2). Why Google should be regulated (Part 3). Huffington Post.

Epstein, R. (2012, October 31). Why Google should be regulated (Part 2). Huffington Post.

Epstein, R. (2012, October 23). Why Google should be regulated (Part 1). Huffington Post.

Recent Presentations

Epstein, R. (2018, June). Panelist, session on “Social Media and Internet Platforms: The Use and Protection of Consumer Data,” National Association of Attorneys General, Portland, OR.  

Epstein, R., Mohr, R., Jr., & Martinez, J. (2018, April). The Search Suggestion Effect (SSE): How search suggestions can be used to shift opinions and voting preferences dramatically. Paper presented at the 98th annual meeting of the Western Psychological Association, Portland, OR.  

Epstein, R., & Mohr, R., Jr. (2018, April). The Answer Bot Effect (ABE): Another surprising way search engines can impact opinions. Paper presented at the 98th annual meeting of the Western Psychological Association, Portland, OR. 

Epstein, R. (2018, April). Big Brother, internet style: New sources of online influence are invisibly impacting the decisions that billions of people are making every day. Invited lecture, Distinguished Speaker Series on Ethics and Policy of Big Data, AI and Other Emerging Technologies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY.

Epstein, R. (2018, April). Panelist, Annual Conference on Antitrust Competition and Digital Platforms, George J. Stigler Center for the Study of the Economy and the State, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL.

Epstein, R. (2018, April). Panelist, Breitbart News Town Hall on Big Tech vs. Free Speech and Privacy, New Orleans, LA. (80-min. video, event begins at 14:30)

Epstein, R. (2018, January). New technologies pose an unprecedented threat to health privacy. Invited talk given at the opening of the Center for Health Law Policy & Bioethics, Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, University of San Diego Law School, San Diego, California.

Epstein, R. (2017, November). The power of Google’s search algorithm.  Invited talk given at a meeting of the American Freedom Alliance, Los Angeles, California.

Epstein, R. (2017, June). Unethical algorithms of massive scale: New data, a new discovery, a new tracking system, and a new society (audio, 1 hr. 23 min.). Invited talk given at the Stanford University Department of Electrical Engineering.

Epstein, R., Robertson, R., Shepherd, S., & Zhang, S. (2017, April). A method for detecting bias in search rankings, with evidence of systematic bias related to the 2016 presidential election. Paper presented at the 97th annual meeting of the Western Psychological Association, Sacramento, CA.

Epstein, R., Mourani, C., Olson, E., & Robertson, R.E. (2017, April). Biased search rankings can shift opinions on a wide range of topics. Paper presented at the 97th annual meeting of the Western Psychological Association, Sacramento, CA.

Epstein, R., Ding., M., Mourani, C., Olson, E., Robertson, R.E., & Tran, F. (2017, April). Multiple searches increase the impact of the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME). Paper presented at the 97th annual meeting of the Western Psychological Association, Sacramento, CA.

Epstein, R. (2017, April). Can search suggestions impact what we search for online? The role of negativity bias. Paper presented at the 97th annual meeting of the Western Psychological Association, Sacramento, CA.

Epstein, R. (Chair). (2017, March). Symposium: Subtle new forms of internet influence and their multiple impacts on society. Held at the 2nd biennial meeting of the International Convention of Psychological Science, Vienna, Austria.

Epstein, R. (2017, March). The Search Suggestion Effect (SSE): How autocomplete can be used to impact votes and opinions. Paper presented at the 2nd biennial meeting of the International Convention of Psychological Science, Vienna, Austria.

Epstein, R., & Robertson, R.E. (2017, March). The Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME): Understanding its power to change opinions and votes. Paper presented at the 2nd biennial meeting of the International Convention of Psychological Science, Vienna, Austria.

Epstein, R. (2017, March). Participant in conference on the regulation of fake news. Information Society Project, Yale Law School, New Haven, CT.

Epstein, R. Can search engines alter our opinions? Invited talk given at the Open Innovations Forum, Moscow, Russia, October 29, 2016.

Epstein, R. The new mind control. Invited talk given at the 360 Science & Technology Film Festival, Polytechnic Museum, Moscow, Russia, October 28, 2016.

Epstein, R. (2016, July). The power of Big Data to control the outcome of elections. Invited talk given at the London School of Economics Symposium on Dangers of Digital Dominance, London, UK.

Epstein, R.  (2016, May). The surprising impact of invisible influence on human thinking and behavior.  Invited talk given at the annual meeting of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents, Washington, DC.

Epstein, R., & Robertson, R.E.  (2016, April).Why is the search engine manipulation effect (SEME) so large? A test of an operant conditioning hypothesis. Paper presented at the 96th annual meeting of the Western Psychological Association, Long Beach, CA.

Epstein, R., & Robertson, R.E. (2016, April). A replication of the search engine manipulation effect (SEME), plus methods for suppressing the effect. Paper presented at the 96th annual meeting of the Western Psychological Association, Long Beach, CA.

Epstein, R.  (2016, February). The new mind control.  Invited talk given at the Muhlenberg College Center for Ethics.

Epstein, R. (2015, October). Leader, brainstorming session on the search engine manipulation effect (SEME). Founder’s Forum, New York, NY.

Epstein, R. (2015, October). The search engine manipulation effect (SEME) and its possible impact on elections. Invited talk to be given at a meeting of the Committee on Science, Technology, and Law of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Washington, DC.

Epstein, R. (2015, October). The search engine manipulation effect (SEME) and its unparalleled power to influence how we think.  Invited talk to be given at the Stanford University Department of Electrical Engineering.

Epstein, R., & Robertson, R.E. (2015, April). The Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME): Large-scale replications in two countries. Paper presented at the 95th annual meeting of the Western Psychological Association, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Epstein, R. (2015, March). Panelist, “Digital absolutism: Time for a new people’s revolution?”  World Business Dialogue, Cologne, Germany.

Epstein, R. (2015, March). New forms of internet influence: Is democracy at risk?  Keynote address given at the annual CeBIT conference, Hannover, Germany.

Epstein, R.  (2015, March). The search engine manipulation effect (SEME): It’s large, robust, and a serious threat to democracy.  Talk given at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany.

Epstein, R. (2014, June).  Democracy at risk: The power of search engines to determine the outcomes of elections. Seminar presented at the School of Government, Development and International Affairs, University of the South Pacific.

Epstein, R., & Robertson, R.E.  (2014, April).  Helping people preserve their privacy online: The surprising power of a click requirement. Paper presented at the 94th annual meeting of the Western Psychological Association, Portland, OR.

Epstein, R.  (2013, November).  The search engine as a threat to both privacy and democracy. Invited talk given at the 9th annual meeting of the Corporate Directors Forum, San Diego, CA.

Epstein, R., & Robertson, R.E. (2013, May). Democracy at risk:  Search rankings can shift voter preferences substantially.  Paper presented at the 25th annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, Washington, DC.

 

©2012, AIBRT