Accuracy in Media

Robert Epstein has gotten under the skin of the mainstream media again.

Epstein, a research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology and former editor in chief of Psychology Today, has done extensive research on the potential for Google and others to influence election results by manipulating search results. His work has been featured in numerous commentaries and in the movie “The Creepy Line,” which chronicled search engine manipulation.

It is this research President Donald Trump relied on Tuesday for his tweet that Google had “manipulated 2.6 million to 16 million votes” in favor of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. And therefore it is this scientist, who wrote in a USA Today op-ed that he is “not a Trump supporter” and “not even a conservative,” but had to “defend truth when I see it” that the mainstream media is attacking.

April Glaser of Slate went farthest in “2.6 million Reasons to Keep Yelling About ‘Bias’ – subhead: “Why the president and the right have latched onto a flimsy study about Google manipulating votes.”

“Trump has repeatedly criticized Google and the other Silicon Valley giants as being biased against conservatives, and he’s long made spurious claims that he won the popular vote in 2016,” Glaser wrote. “With both charges, no proof exists.”

Glaser declared Epstein’s claims are “easily dismantled,” although her argument against them seems to be that conservatives have been complaining about this problem for a long time.

“Cries over social-media bias have been a right-wing refrain since an overbaked controversy over Facebook’s Trending News section demonstrated the company will bend over backward if enough conservatives get upset loudly enough,” Glaser wrote. “After all, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and their peers want their products to be used by everyone, and they certainly don’t want to tick off politicians of either party.”

According to Epstein’s research, Google appeared quite willing to tick off a newcomer politician named Donald Trump in 2016, which revealed a significant pro-Hillary Clinton bias in Google search results that, according to Epstein, could have influenced millions of voters in her favor.

And that’s not to mention the remarks by Google co-founder Sergey Brin right after the election that he was “deeply offended” by Trump’s victory.

Glaser wrote that she expects little to come of Trump’s occasional threats to regulate how social media companies moderate user content because, among other things, the present model serves their interests so well.

“It’s more likely that conservatives keep talking about bias on social platforms for two reasons,” she wrote. “One, the topic really fires up their extremely online supporters – like the group of conspiracy theorists, Infowars regulars and racist meme-makers that the White House hosted recently at a ‘social media summit.’

“The second reason is social media really does work in conservatives’ favor, and they don’t want the companies to do anything that might change that. Month after month this year, the Trump campaign has outspent all Democratic candidates combined on Facebook ads. Even after the company tweaked its news-feed algorithm to deprioritize news and politics, conservatives across the board are thriving on Facebook.

“Fox News is one of the biggest publishers on Facebook, far outranking CNN in terms of both followers and engagement. Not coincidentally, all of this discussion of bias obscures many of the real problems with social media – like their ability to amplify emotional and divisive content and their vulnerability to misinformation.

“Now, if tech companies try to do more to protect the integrity of elections – say, by ferreting out pages that are boosting untruths about, for example, immigrants – they can expect to be accused of censoring conservatives. With or without Epstein’s claims of manipulating, that’s where we’d be.  But this latest meme gives conservatives 2.6 million to 16 million reasons to yell ‘bias’ even louder.”

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