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The Clinton Body Count

The Computer Corner

By Charles Miller

Politics seems to be a subject impossible to avoid in this US presidential election cycle. For better or worse the Internet is playing a part in it all.

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani is a Republican loyalist who is not a doctor, but he tries to play one on television. In an interview he stoked the flames of conspiracy theorists when he said, “Go online and put down ‘Hillary Clinton illness,’ and take a look at the videos yourself.”

This prompted The New York Times tech columnist Farhad Manjoo to call on Google to manipulate its search engine results to hide alleged evidence of Hillary Clinton’s failing health. I hope everyone reading this is as appalled as I am to see a member of the news media openly and publicly advocating the use of censorship to hide information from the public.

The truth is that neither of the now or soon-to-be septuagenarian candidates in the US presidential race has made public their personal health records. Until they do so, the only information Internet search engines will ever be able to find online will continue to be unofficial, unsubstantiated, conjecture, speculation, or conspiracy theory.

And it is not as if Google is not already engaging in a certain level of censorship. The company has been caught red-handed doctoring its suggested searches to steer users away from certain stories. Google has altered its search algorithm to prevent searches for “Clinton body count” from auto-completing. The “Clinton body count” is an infamous list of alleged murders connected to the Clintons. When a user searches for “clinton body” on Bing or Yahoo, the suggested results relate to the conspiracy theories. Search for the same term on Google and the only search results point to auto body repair shops, and other unrelated sites.

While Google may not be outright censoring the information because users can still search for anything, the fact that the term does not auto-complete clearly suggests that Google altered its algorithm to steer users away from “conspiracy theories” about Hillary.

Facebook has also come under fire for the way in which its “Trending Stories” favors the left. The company just announced that human editors will no longer write the bylines for the Trending Stories and that this will now be done strictly by a computer software algorithm that will choose points from the actual story. This is likely to be a meaningless victory for promoters of balanced news reporting because human programmers will still write the algorithms.

We are only beginning to understand the potential impact of “search engine manipulation effect” (SEME) on the electorate. The National Academy of Sciences has stated that changing the results of online searches has the potential to shift public opinion and even change the outcome of national elections.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.

 

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