(AllGov) The results produced by search engines, including the big daddy of them all, Google, can be manipulated to influence voters before an election, researchers have found.

Robert Epstein and Ronald E. Roberston of the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology examined how the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME) can influence individuals doing online research about political campaigns. Their study (pdf) showed voters’ preferences can be swayed by 20% or more through manipulating search engine results to favor one candidate over another.

“Because SEME is virtually invisible as a form of social influence, because the effect is so large and because there are currently no specific regulations anywhere in the world that would prevent Google from using and abusing this technique, we believe SEME is a serious threat to the democratic system of government,” they wrote.

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