In a tweet on Monday in which he cited a report put out by psychologist Robert Epstein, President Trump said he may have won even bigger in 2016.
The report speculates that a major search engine’s results may have shown bias for Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, and may have affected at least 2.6 million votes.
The president drew attention to the report in a tweet on Monday which read, “Wow, Report Just Out! Google manipulated from 2.6 million to 16 million votes for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Election!”
“This was put out by a Clinton supporter, not a Trump Supporter! Google should be sued. My victory was even bigger than thought!” he added.
Wow, Report Just Out! Google manipulated from 2.6 million to 16 million votes for Hillary Clinton in 2016 Election! This was put out by a Clinton supporter, not a Trump Supporter! Google should be sued. My victory was even bigger than thought! @JudicialWatch
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2019
Clinton won the popular vote by 2.8 million votes, but these figures could have easily pushed Trump over that mark.
Politifact confirms the 2017 report’s claim that search engines may have shown bias results to voters ahead of the election but clarified the impact may have been less than Trump is claiming.
Trump’s claim appears to trace back to a research paper published online in June 2017. He may have become aware of the paper after the right-wing website Town Hall ran an article that heavily cited it. The Washington Post reported that the same research paper was mentioned in a segment on Fox Business News.
The paper, by psychologist Robert Epstein, seeks to build off earlier research Epstein did on how bias in search engine results can affect voting preferences. (For the record, Epstein’s estimate was that between 2.6 million and 10.4 million votes may have been manipulated in 2016 — not up to 16 million votes, as Trump said.)
First, here’s the study’s basic setup: In the run-up to the 2016 election, researchers recruited 95 people, 21 of whom identified as “undecided.”
Over a 25-day period — from Oct. 15 through Election Day, Nov. 8 — researchers analyzed between 50 and 483 of these subjects’ daily web searches.
Those search results were then farmed out to a crowdsourcing website, where raters voted on whether they found search results biased or not.
Their key finding: that “election-related search terms were, on average, biased in Mrs. Clinton’s favor.”
Politifact also tracked down Epstein who defended his research but clarified that Google did not deliberately try to impact the election.
“I have never said that Google deliberately manipulated the 2016 election,” said Epstein, who supported Clinton in 2016, per the report.
The Washington Post reports Trump brought up the nearly 2-year report as Epstein was on a Fox Business segment on Monday morning to discuss his findings:
Shortly before noon, Fox Business aired a segment discussing testimony offered to the Senate last month. Robert Epstein, a psychologist who at one point was editor in chief of Psychology Today, told senators on July 17 that his research suggested Google had given millions of votes to Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. A guest on Fox Business named Oz Sultan, who worked with Trump’s 2016 campaign, looped that claim back into the broader, ongoing criticism of social-media companies that’s currently in vogue among conservatives.
The report, as the Washington Post reports, has not fared well to professional scrutiny as its methodology and claims have been called into question.
From the Washington Post:
One of the more baffling aspects to this research is that no indication is made about how the searches were conducted. Google’s search results are specific to users, and there’s no indication in the summary (mentions of using incognito mode, for example) that any effort was made to return unweighed results from the search engine. Nor is there information provided about who participated in the study. Collecting results from a group of well-to-do city dwellers, for example, might help explain any “bias.”
This is more problematic because while the research points to thousands of search results that were analyzed, only 95 people actually provided responses to the study. Meaning if the results were driven by the identities of those individuals, the variation in the pool of results was actually 95. Oh, and of that group? Only 21 were undecided. If the 2.6 million figure derives from that group alone, the value of that figure is almost nil.
The Washington Post also determined that Epstein had an anti-Google bias in conducting the research as he previously pushed reports which predicted Google would try to impact the election.
Check out Epstein’s full report below: