(WASHINGTONPOST) — Google long ago went from being a mere directory of the Internet to a shaper of online reality, helping determine what we see and how. But what power does Google have over the “real” world – and especially the volatile one of closely contested elections?

Psychologist Robert Epstein has been researching this question and says he is alarmed at what he has discovered. His most recent experiment, whose findings were released Monday, found that search engines have the potential to profoundly influence voters without them noticing the impact. Epstein has coined a term for this power: Search Engine Manipulation Effect, with the acronym SEME.

Epstein, former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today and a vocal critic of Google, has not produced evidence that this or any other search engine has intentionally deployed this power. But the new experiment builds on his earlier work by measuring SEME in the concrete setting of India’s national election, whose voting concludes Monday.

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