The Internet has made possible new means of manipulating opinions, purchases and votes that are unprecedented in human history in their effectiveness, scale and clandestine nature. Whether closely guided by human hands or operating independently of their creators, these algorithms now guide human decision making 24/7, often in ways that have ethical consequences. Biased search rankings, for example, have been shown to shift the voting preferences of undecided voters dramatically without any awareness on their part that they are being manipulated (the Search Engine Manipulation Effect, or SEME).
Recent research shows that SEME can impact a wide range of opinions, not just voting preferences, and that multiple searches increase SEME's impact. New experiments also help to explain why SEME is so powerful and demonstrate how SEME can be suppressed to some extent.
In 2016, new research also demonstrated that search suggestions (in "autocomplete") can also be used shift opinions and votes (the Search Suggestion Effect, or SSE).
Demonstrating these possibilities in research is one thing; do search engine companies actually show people search suggestions or search results that are biased in some way?
In 2016, AIBRT researchers recruited a nationwide network of field agents whose election-related searches were collected and aggregated for six months before the November election, thus preserving 13,207 searchers and the 98,044 web pages to which the search results linked. This unique data set revealed that that search results were indeed biased toward one candidate during most of this period in all 10 search positions on the first page of search results - enough, perhaps, to shift millions of votes without people's knowledge.
Based on the success of this tracking effort, in early 2017, experts in multiple fields and at multiple universities in the US and Europe came together to creates The Sunlight Society (http://TheSunlightSociety.org), a nonprofit organization devoted to creating a worldwide ecosystem of passive monitoring software that will reveal a wide range of online manipulations as they are occurring, thus providing a means for identifying unethical algorithms as they are launched.